TRAVERSE CITY — Anyone in DTE Gas Company’s service area will receive a natural gas bill from the utility, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s who supplies the gas.
Michigan’s Gas Customer Choice program allows alternative suppliers to compete with four of the state’s regulated utilities: DTE, Consumers Energy Company, SEMCO Energy Gas Company and Michigan Gas Utilities Corp. The alternative suppliers purchase the gas and set unregulated prices, but the main utility continues to deliver the gas and handle the billing.
Natural gas customers who hope to switch supplies have to do their homework and contact individual alternative suppliers to get their rates.
State officials are looking into simplifying the process by creating a website where ratepayers can easily compare prices. The Michigan Public Service Commission recently ordered the four utilities to contribute ideas for the website.
“This would be a website where folks could go and get an apples-to-apples comparison of gas choice availability and prices and the types,” said Judy Palnau, a media and public information specialist for the Michigan Public Service Commission.
The idea for a website came from DTE, which surveyed its customers found more than 85 percent wanted a centralized location to compare prices.
The survey also found that about half the customers who use an alternative supplier didn’t realize they were doing so, said Erica Donerson, a spokeswoman for DTE Energy.
About 215,000 people in DTE’s service area use an alternative supplier, less than 20 percent of the company’s 1.2 million natural gas customers, Donerson said.
People in downtown Traverse City this week weren’t very familiar with the gas choice program, but said they thought a centralized website was a good idea.
“I think people should have an opportunity to be shrewd consumers,” said Sarah Hunt, a Lake Ann resident who uses DTE. “I never considered or looked into other options. Life’s kept me busy and I go with what I’ve been using.”