We’ve had a mild winter this year — the 50-degree temperatures in January are a testament to that. But that doesn’t mean that the winter is bearable without heat and electricity. Thousands of Detroit families have had to suffer through the cold because DTE Energy shut off lights and heat to 105,348 customers last year. While DTE is a profit seeking company, it still needs to recognize basic human needs. Like all companies that perform important utility services, DTE needs to do its part to help suffering Michigan residents who can’t afford utilities.

Three hundred protesters took over the lobby of DTE headquarters last Thursday to protest these shut offs, chanting “no more shut offs.” Organizers included religious, labor and even Occupy leaders. The protesters claimed that DTE was shutting off electricity to houses while giving its top executives salary increases. They also accused DTE of not paying its share in taxes. A DTE spokesman said the company was doing all it could to keep the power on in these tough economic times, but they didn’t address the accusation of salary increases. Michigan law states that it’s illegal to shut off power between the months of November and March, but thousands of people had utilities cut in October, forcing them to deal with the cold winter months.

Many Michigan residents, especially those in Detroit, have suffered due to the economic downturn. Detroit residents have few prospects and little opportunity. The least DTE can do is keep their houses warm. DTE supplies services that keep people alive, and if these services disappear, so will the people who depend on them. DTE needs to have humane morals in addition to its profit-making attitude.

While there are services for the poor to help them pay their electric bills, there is still more to be done. The Michigan Low Income and Energy Efficiency Fund provides assistance to low-income households to pay bills and keep the electricity on. LIEFF is a much needed program, but it’s running out of money. Programs like LIEEF are necessary, and Detroit should work to create more programs to help the poor in hard winter months.

DTE is a large company that can afford to keep some families’ lights and heat on in the dead of winter. If it’s true that it’s giving salary increases to executives, then DTE needs to rethink its business model. Giving its executives salary increases and bonuses doesn’t make sense if the company is unable to avoid shut offs. All its extra money should be used to keep electricity running for the most amount of people possible. They shouldn’t be handing out money to people who don’t need it at the moment. Those who need electricity should come first in something as important as electricity and heat.

Despite the weather in recent weeks, winters in Michigan are hard, and heat can be the difference between life and death. Detroit’s residents are already struggling, and not having electricity makes it even worse. More programs like LIEEF would relieve Michigan residents’ stress as they try to make ends meet. DTE should work hard to keep the power on. The salary increases are not an efficient or moral use of money. DTE provides a service that is crucial to life in Michigan and it needs to put that above everything else.

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