LANSING, Mich. – State regulators on Wednesday proposed emergency rules to keep more people from losing electricity or heat in the winter and to ban the use of power-limiting devices, weeks after a 93-year-old man froze to death in a home with a similar gadget.
The Michigan Public Service Commission's new rules would allow unemployed workers and a larger number of lower-income customers to avoid utility shutoffs if they pay a small portion of their monthly bills. The rules also would extend shut-off protections for customers from March 31 to April 30.
The commission, however, does not have jurisdiction over municipal utilities such as the one that put a power-limiting device on Marvin Schur's electric meter in Bay City because he owed more than $1,000. The device temporarily turns off power when use exceeds a certain level.
Schur was found dead in his frigid home on Jan. 17, four days after the electricity "limiter" was installed. It apparently tripped, cutting off his electricity.
Schur could have turned the power back on by resetting the outdoor device, but neighbors said he rarely left the house in the cold.
The commission banned regulated utilities from using limiters, though none was using them at the time of Schur's death.
The rules must be signed off on by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who pushed for the ban, and be filed with the secretary of state.
Meanwhile, the state of Iowa is considering expanding the use of limiters after rural electric cooperatives asked the state Utilities Board to update rules specifying the devices that can be used.
Iowa has permitted the devices since the mid-1980s, said utilities board spokesman Chuck Seel, and the board has scheduled a hearing Thursday on allowing use of higher-tech versions. A change could cause other utilities to start using power limiters.
Jerry McKim, chief of the Bureau of Energy Assistance in the Iowa Department of Human Rights, said he feared similar scenarios to that of Schur's if the state allows the newer limiters.
"It's a pretty safe bet someone's going to die from this," he said.
Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives spokesman Allen Urlis said customers would not have to accept the devices, and they would reset automatically.
"No one wants a repeat of something happening like it did in Michigan," Urlis said.
It's unclear when the utilities board might decide.