The Iowa Utilities Board is considering changes to a rule that governs a power company’s use of a device that can cut off power to customers behind on their bills.
Iowa has a 20-year-old rule that allows for the use of so-called service-limiters, which monitor monitor energy use and cut off power when it exceeds a pre-set level.
The state’s rural electric cooperatives want to see the current rule updated to allow for the higher-tech limiters now available. The chief executive officer of Consumers Energy Cooperative in Marshalltown, Brian Heithoff, says the newer devices reset automatically every 15 minutes if energy use exceeds the agreed-upon level.
Heithoff says, “We think this is simply a tool that can help customers avoid disconnection and or help them use energy more wisely.” Heithoff says the outdated rule doesn’t consider the advances made with these so-called service-limiters over the years.
“With the advancement of the smart-grid technology that our policymakers are encouraging it’s opening up a number of technology related tools that can help customers avoid disconnection and use their energy more wisely,” Heightoff says.
Consumer advocates have lined up against changes in the rule. The executive director of the Iowa Community Action Association, Lana Ross, says she fears for the health and safety of low-income and older citizens no matter how short a time they may lose power. Ross says, “The device may hinder their ability to meet the needs of their families and does not take into consideration the circumstances of the families to which those devices are being put on their meters.”
Ross says she fears for the health and safety of low-income citizens if they lose heat and electricity, even for a short amount of time.
“Because of the harshness of our winters as far as being cold and then our summers being hot, we have concerns that families will be in jeopardy during those severe weather conditions,” Ross says.
The debate in Iowa comes just weeks after a 93-year-old Michigan man froze to death when power to his home was interrupted. The town where he lived has since ordered the removal of all service-limiters. The Iowa Utilities Board has set a March 26th deadline for additional written comments about the proposal.