By Brian Tracey Business Editor
msnbc.com
COMMENTARY

Talk about an abuse of power: A Michigan utility cut off electricity to a home after a customer was delinquent in her bill — by one cent.

Jacqueline Williams, 41, of Flint had an electricity bill of $1,662.08 and paid all of it, except for a penny. That wasn't enough for Consumers Energy, which blacked her out for seven hours last week.

The CMS Energy Corp. subsidiary told Williams the power would not be turned on until the penny was received.

"I went down there, paid my penny and got a receipt," Williams told The Flint Journal.

Shortly after, the electricity was turned back on.

"All of this for one penny," said Williams, who went to the state Department of Human Services for help in April and was told the agency would pay most of the bill.

But she was still short more than $500.

Williams, a Social Security recipient, went to the Salvation Army, where she received $430.67, and Consumers agreed to match $430.66 toward the bill.

However, she was still one cent short.

A Consumers Energy spokesman said the utility had no choice in the matter, although he was not aware of any similar incidents where service was stopped for one cent.

"This was the first one I've heard about," said Terry DeDoes. He said the company has many programs to help people who fall behind in their utility bills.

Sounds like they also need a management program in common sense.

Not-so-bad ideas

  • Some say Britain's pungent blue-veined Stilton cheese smells of old socks. But its fans have turned the rare odor into a perfume.
Stilton cheese
stiltoncheese.com
The Stilton Cheese Makers Association hopes its new perfume is a smell that sells.

The Stilton Cheese Makers Association commissioned an aromatics firm to create Eau de Stilton, described as featuring a "symphony of natural base notes including Yarrow, Angelica seed, Clary Sage and Valerian."

"Blue Stilton cheese has a very distinctive mellow aroma, and our perfumier was able to capture the key essence of that scent and recreate it in an unusual but highly wearable perfume," said an association spokesman.

"Highly wearable" if your goal is to make room for yourself on a crowded subway train, we think.

  • In a world where people happily pay significant sums for bottled water, we shouldn't be surprised that exhausted Japanese workers in need of a pick-me-up will soon be able to get a hit of canned oxygen at their local convenience store.

Seven-Eleven Japan will start marketing the new product, "O2 Supli," at select stores in the Tokyo later this month and expand sales nationwide in June.

"People are under a lot of stress and can't get much exercise, so they aren't getting enough oxygen," said Minoru Matsumoto, a spokesman for Seven & I Holdings Co. Ltd., Seven-Eleven's parent company. (The Japanese company licenses its trademark from U.S.-based quick-stop chain.)

"This is especially true of people who do long hours of desk work in front of a computer. They don't breathe that deeply," Matsumoto said.

The oxygen will be sold for 600 yen ($5.50) in 3.2-liter spray cans of 95 percent pure oxygen, each of which comes with a small plastic mask attached to the top.

Users place the mask over their mouth and nose, then push a nozzle, which dispenses the oxygen for two to three seconds.

Each can contains enough oxygen for about 35 doses, in either a grapefruit or peppermint fragrance.

But why stop there? We think Seven-Eleven should mix in some Eau de Stilton with that fresh-baked-bread smell so we can inhale lunch.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this article.

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