Should Energy be a Public Service?
As we begin Earth Week, our activities will focus on learning more about local environmental justice issues existing in Detroit! This activity focuses on issues surrounding energy (electricity and natural gas), specifically how they are delivered to customers and the impacts of their production.
Detroit residents, and Michiganders overall, have some of the highest energy bills in the country while simultaneously experiencing some of the worst rates for power blackouts. Detroit is serviced by DTE, which continues to increase rates for its customers. In this activity, students will learn more about this issue, why it continues, and possible alternatives.
Goals: Age Group: 9-12
Understand how our state’s energy system differs from others
Think critically about our energy system Time: 1 hour
Recognize the negative social impacts
First, read the following article from the Metro Times and then watch the linked video from DTE. Afterwards, take time to answer the following reflection questions, to compare and contrast the different viewpoints.
DTE and Consumers Energy are Broken and Dangerous. Is it Time for Public Owned Utilities? By: Tom Perkins
Video: How Energy Prices Are Set, DTE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSuUf7tuEvQ
What were the similarities between the article and video? What were the differences?
The video mentions the Michigan Public Service Commission reviews what DTE determines as “the true cost of serving our customers.” What costs do you think are included in this? Think back to things discussed in the article.
Based on the video, do you feel as though DTE’s customers are represented in this process for setting prices? Why or why not?
Were you surprised to read that Michigan ranked second worst in the country for how long it takes to restore power to homes after a power outage? Were you surprised by anything else in the article?
Have you experienced power outages?
What are some of the issues that could happen if someone loses power during the summer or winter? Particularly for a longer period of time?
Which people are most impacted during a blackout?
As a result of climate change, Michigan will have more and more extreme heat days in the summer and more extreme storms. Do you think this will increase blackouts?
The article discusses how DTE “regularly shuts off power to between 5,000 and 25,000 customers monthly.” What are the potential effects of losing power? What justification do you think DTE would give for shutting off power to households?
Do you think access to electricity is a human right?
The article further discusses that the poorest residents, who often are the victim of shutoffs, are also facing the negative health impact from DTE’s nearby coal power plants. What are some of the health impacts?
Read the following quote from the article: “With the Public Services Commission's blessing, DTE and Consumers successfully shifted the cost burden from industry to residents over the last 10 years. While residents' electricity costs increased by about 50% statewide, industry's costs remained about the same.”
Do you think this is fair?
If you are interested in learning more about this issue, and those that are working to address energy inequalities in Detroit, check out:
Michelle Martinez, an environmental justice activist from Southwest Detroit, who works to address the existing environmental pollution in the city, climate change, and the associated impacts that are primarily impacting communities of color. Martinez is currently a coordinator for the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition: https://www.michiganej.org/.
Soulardarity, a Highland Park based nonprofit specializing in the promotion of clean, renewable energy and a more equitable energy system. Learn more and get involved at: https://www.soulardarity.com/.