Recurring power outages have become a reality in Detroit and southeast Michigan. The most recent mass blackout left hundreds of thousands of people in the Detroit metro area without power following a brief windstorm on August 29. Four days later, tens of thousands of people were still unable to operate their medical devices and keep their food from spoiling. With outages becoming more severe and frequent as the climate crisis deepens, for-profit utilities want to dip deeper into the pockets of workers struggling to afford their unreliable energy service.
Even before the most recent outages, the frustration in and around Detroit was palpable. On Monday, August 22, hundreds demonstrated and traveled to a public hearing hosted by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to denounce DTE’s latest exorbitant electricity rate hike amid rampant inflation and ongoing blackouts. Organizations like the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition (MEJC), which launched the Work for me, DTE! country in 2018 to demand more affordable and sustainable energy, helped mobilize participation through a call to action. Supporters and grassroots groups like the Charlevoix Village Association (CVA) also attended the very first hearing.
DTE Energy, one of the largest investor-owned utilities in the United States serving 2.2 million customers in Michigan, is seeking MPSC approval to impose an 8.8% price increase on customers homes starting in November 2022. If the MPSC approves the rate increase, payers will have to pay an additional $388 million a year in household electricity bills.
Detroiters recognize this rate hike for what it is: a slap in the face for workers who have seen their purchasing power plummet as they experience widespread utility cuts and system failures amid rising unemployment. inflation. Toyia Watts, president of the CVA in Detroit’s Eastside, summed up the mood in the room to cheers and applause as she challenged the MPSC and other undemocratic agencies that hold people’s welfare in their hands: “How can we survive with all of these dictatorships?
According analysis According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA), about 20 million homes in the United States, or about one in six, are already behind on paying their utility bills and at risk of being cut off. Black and brown people and low-income households are at increased levels of risk. In 2021, amid many outages, DTE closed 178,200 customers for non-payment, almost twice as much as Michigan’s other major energy providers. An independent analysis of national electricity rates puts DTE in the top five percent of all suppliers without its most recent rate increase request. Even before soaring inflation, Detroit residents were forced to choose between paying for rising housing costs, the highest car insurance rates in the nation, energy bills, or food. and prescriptions.
In its rate increase application to MPSC, DTE asserts that subscribers would incur higher costs to upgrade generation and distribution infrastructure to meet the needs of the region and improve reliability. The Detroiters, however, are familiar with DTE’s track record. With a virtual monopoly in its service area, the company is not interested in increasing reliability and efficiency – it seeks to increase profits for its shareholders and management. Even during the pandemic, DTE delivered nearly $1 billion in net profits every year, but the reliability kept deteriorating. DTE’s modernization efforts in Detroit have mainly benefited industrial and municipal customers, not ordinary citizens whose infrastructure has, on average, exceeded its useful life of 24 years.
The MSPC is likely to approve of the rate hike, which comes amid the dramatic erosion of Detroiters’ purchasing power due to inflation, soaring housing prices and a resurgence in home selling. property tax auction, which has dispossessed tens of thousands of property owners over the past decade.
Forcing the hand of the MPSC would require both militant disruption of its anti-democratic meetings and the ability of the DTE to reap exorbitant profits by exploiting the working class through rate hikes. Workers like University of Michigan nurses, Eastern Michigan University and UPS professors and UAW workers who enter contract negotiations next year are expected to fight fee hikes and ongoing privatization energy and other vital resources as well as workplace issues. To win, workers must break away from associations and Democrats who only care about sending people back to the polls in November. Politically independent movements led by working class people around the world show how Detroit residents can fight back against the DTE and the MSPC.
As the climate catastrophe deepens and energy loads increase, the working class in Puerto Rico and the UK is posing an independent and militant response to these crises created by the capitalist class. Residents of Puerto Rico are facing police repression in their struggle on the streets to regain control of the electricity grid from private operator LUMA, which burst into financial restructuring in 2021. Under LUMA, the entire island of Puerto Rico – 1.4 million people – lost power when Hurricane Fiona made landfall on September 18. More than 100,000 people in the UK have pledged not to pay their energy bills, which are set to rise exponentially as energy companies reap billions in profits every quarter.
Winning an affordable and sustainable future in Puerto Rico, the UK and Detroit depends on the leadership of the working class, under its own direction and power, not that of nonprofits, bureaucrats or parties. politicians and the capitalist profiteers they serve.