Nonprofit documenting struggles of U.P. ratepayers


Journal Ishpeming Bureau

MARQUETTE — Can a movie solve the problem of high electric bills in rural Upper Peninsula communities?

The American Resilience Project team believes that a documentary about what many see as exorbitant electric bills in the U.P. and in other rural municipalities in Michigan may shed light on the subject.

The nonprofit organization is currently filming interviews with residents who are struggling to pay their electric bills, according to Executive Director and Producer Roger Sorkin.

Upper Peninsula Power Co. and Upper Michigan Energy Resources Corp. had the highest rates in the state according to a Michigan Public Service Commission rate sheet published in January.

The sheet indicates UMERC customers using 500 kilowatt-hours per month are billed at $81.68, while UPPCO customers with the same usage billed at $109.24.

Rates for UPPCO are expected to drop by about 6 percent due to a savings of $5.5 million in the company’s power supply expenses. Meanwhile, rates for all publicly held utilities in the state are expected to drop for customers in July due to an MPSC ruling requiring public utilities to begin passing on corporate income tax savings to ratepayers statewide.

But Gary Talarico, a vocal proponent of lower electric rates, said that still may not be enough. That’s why he was happy to help American Resilience Project videographer Matthew Fleming with filming 10 interviews about the cost of electric service in the area over a two-day period.

“We pretty much talked about the cost of it,” Talarico said. “I was what they call a fixer; I asked the questions from behind the scenes.”

Talarico said the interviews netted what he called “a lot of really compelling testimony.”

“We interviewed one guy whose bill was $900 last month,” Talarico said. “And one older gentleman and his daughter who had to move in together because they could not individually swing the monthly electric bill.”

The release date of the film has not yet been determined, Sorkin said, but based on the philosophy his organization was founded on, it’s believed the documentary will make an impact when that release date comes.

“American Resilience Project is dedicated solely to telling the stories of America’s greatest environmental and national security challenges,” the ARP website states. “But instead of focusing on the negative aspects of these challenges, we inspire action and investment around solutions that build a model for resilient American communities. Towns and cities across America face serious environmental threats like sea level rise, extreme weather, resource scarcity and electrical grid vulnerability.”

Sorkin said the desired outcome for the rural residents of the U.P. would be more predictable affordable electric bills.

“We hope it will contribute to improving the lives of residents, and strengthening the energy resilience of the Upper Peninsula communities,” Sorkin said.

He said the nonprofit is actively seeking executive producers, underwriters and other financial supporters for the organization’s projects.

For more information or in order to donate, visit www.amresproject.org/donate.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.