When the coronavirus pandemic began this past spring, University of Chicago Law School scholars and students had already spent months battling Detroit’s electricity provider over a proposed rate increase. In the face of COVID-19, already pressing concerns about energy affordability suddenly took on a heightened urgency—and the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic quickly switched gears.
“We were advocating for low-income consumers, highlighting how these individuals already suffer from energy insecurity, and how utility bills are often a much larger percentage of their income,” said Clinical Prof. Mark Templeton, director of the Abrams Clinic. “And once COVID-19 hit, we talked about how the pandemic was adding some serious additional challenges.”
The Abrams Clinic first got involved in the case through their client Soulardarity, a Detroit-area nonprofit that advocates for affordable energy rates, equitable service and increased solar-powered energy in low-income neighborhoods. When southeastern Michigan energy company DTE proposed a rate increase before the Michigan Public Service Commission—which regulates investor-owned utilities—Soulardarity was one of many parties to oppose the move.
That opposition took on increased importance as the virus spread and stay-at-home orders took effect—and the Abrams Clinic began focusing on the ways in which higher electricity bills could create additional harms.
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