Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

February 5, 2013

More waiting to buy power from competitors

More than 10,000 Mich. residents are on the waiting list

LANSING (AP) — About 4,000 more customers joined a waiting list to buy power from competitors to Michigan's two dominant utilities in 2012, more fodder for those pushing to eliminate a 4-year-old cap on competition in the electricity market.

The number of customers in the queue rose from 6,385 to a record 10,467 in the past year, an increase of nearly two-thirds. They cannot buy electricity from alternative suppliers because Detroit Edison Co. and Consumers Energy are guaranteed at least 90 percent of sales in their regions under a 2008 state energy law. Competitors' share of the market is currently maxed out at 10 percent.

"Those customers have saved millions of dollars compared with higher-priced options with Detroit Edison and Consumers Energy," said Maureen Saxton, spokeswoman for Energy Choice Now, a coalition of competitor energy companies and their business customers.

They have lobbied, so far unsuccessfully, to lift the cap by arguing more choice would keep rising electric bills in check. Few residential customers can shop around for power because energy companies generally compete only for more lucrative business customers.

A report released Friday by the Michigan Public Service Commission showed Edison's waiting list grew 74 percent last year and Consumers' by 57 percent. To get in the queue, customers signed a contract with an alternative supplier. But they can only leave their traditional provider if a spot opens up or if overall power usage rises enough in a year to allow more customers into the program.

If the cap was eliminated, competitors hypothetically could have had 21 percent of sales in Edison's territory and 24 percent in Consumers' territory, according to the "Status of Electric Competition in Michigan" report.

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