Customers relate billing concerns of power company on social media

Vanessa Dietz/Daily Mining Gazette In this photo, the local service center for Upper Peninsula Power Company is shown, located along the Portage Canal near Houghton.

HOUGHTON — Some Upper Peninsula Power Co. (UPPCO) customers have created a Facebook site to voice unresolved concerns about bills from the company.

A tenacious downstate woman with a cabin in Lake Linden recently posted details about her unsuccessful effort to resolve a surprisingly large UPPCO bill from a couple years ago with the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC).

Barbara Grundeman, from the Detroit suburb of Birmingham, said she recently wrote to Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, hoping he might intervene on behalf of her family regarding a bill for their Rabbit Bay property.

On behalf of her husband, Grundeman asked Caperson’s office to try to recoup more than $1,600 racked up when the cabin was uninhabited that her late daughter paid to avoid having the power shut off.

“In June 2014, we were billed $1,601.07 by UPPCO for eight months of no use,” Grundeman said in a phone interview Sunday, during which she said her daughter died last year from a MERSA infection. “She paid the bill because they said, ‘We’re going to turn off your power.'”

The Grundemans have employed Carson Hodges of Lake Linden to pull the main fuses every winter for decades, including during the time in question.

“After winterizing the Grundeman cottage in Rabbit Bay on Oct. 21, 2013, I pulled out the main fuses in the fuse box as I have done for the past 27 years,” testified Hodges, of Lakes Heating & Maintenance, in 2015. “I reinstalled them when I opened the cottage on May 20, 2014. I see no reason for Mr. Grundeman to have gotten huge power bills during the winter of 2013-2014.”

The “Fight UPPCO’s rate hikes” site has 1,632 members, some of whom have posted similar concerns with bills.

“We’re aware of many others in the Upper Peninsula who have had problems with UPPCO also,” Grundeman wrote in a June 2 email with Linda Pfotenhauer, a representative of Casperson. “Sixteen-hundred-dollars-plus is a lot of money to us, and we are very much in need of this. It does not belong to UPPCO. … My husband is 79 and can’t retire. We could really use our $1,600. How can the ‘little man’ be used by this company?”

Grundeman wonders if the bill sent to them was attributable to neighbors working on their adjacent property at the time the bill was generated, but the MPSC ruled against them.

Pfotenhauer said although Casperson talked to UPPCO, he had no luck swaying the company in the couple’s favor.

“…I do not have good news for you,” wrote Linda Pfotenhauer, on behalf of Casperson, in a June 6 response to Grundeman’s request for intervention. “Sen. Casperson did contact UPPCO representatives twice… And he did discuss the fact that your daughter had paid the electric bill so the power would remain on. Unfortunately, he was not successful either time. UPPCO maintains that your original complaint filed in 2015 was thoroughly investigated and the electricity at the property was properly metered and billed. So they will not provide any bill credit in this situation. Sen. Casperson regrets that UPPCO’s response was not more favorable. As the Legislature does not have any oversight of utility companies (that is the role of the MPSC), Sen. Casperson believes that further efforts on his part would prove unsuccessful. I’m very sorry we could not help you.”

UPPCO justified the bill to the MPSC at the time of the investigation.

“The bill is an eight-month bill, for the timeframe of Oct. 8, 2013, to June 11, 2014,” UPPCO wrote in an April 30, 2015, letter to the MPSC’s Teresa McKay. “Total kilowatt hours billed were 7,448. The property was used over Labor Day 2013, winterized by a caretaker in October 2013, and not used again until July 2014. UPPCO did an actual reading on Oct. 8, 2014. We estimated the bills at zero for the remainder of the winter season. The property has a history of no use during winter. On June 11, 2014, an actual reading was obtained.”

The Grundemans remain frustrated over the matter.

“The little guy — us,” Grundeman said. “It’s like we’re losing the battle.”