PG&E moratorium on power shutoffs ends

January 7, 2010 11:42:31 AM PST
PG&E has started shutting off power to customers who are behind in their utility bills. The utility company's self-imposed moratorium began in mid-December, but the holiday gesture was lifted right after the holidays, leaving some to wonder what happens now.

Jamie Lajoie is currently caring for her 3-month-old newborn Ely. The temperature in her Hayward home is comfortable despite an economic uncertainty that has the family juggling bills and doing everything it can just to survive.

"Right now, times are really hard for people," she says. "A lot of people have kids and stuff and can't afford to pay their bill all at once."

Lonnie Jones of Brentwood is a retired bus driver. He has taken on a 30-hour a week job to help make ends meet.

"It's not been easy. You just gotta keep working," he says.

Both customers could be among those who have their utilities shut off soon. PG&E says that on Monday, the first day the ban was lifted, it shut off power to 200 families.

A report by the state's division of ratepayer advocates found disconnections among low-income customers are up 19 percent statewide over the year before. But, among PG&E customers in the low-income bracket, that figure is up 75 percent.

Executive Director of the Utility Reform Network Mark Toney tells ABC7, "PG&E, to our understanding, has simply decided to increase their collection activities, increase their shutoff activities."

PG&E denies this and says the actual disconnection rate among its low-income customers is 24 percent. The utility says it is doing everything it can to help customers.

"Increased our touch points with customers that are in danger of being disconnected, with three additional phone calls, an additional letter, as well as you know, again, anytime a customer calls us, we will work out the financial assistance programs," says PG&E spokesperson Nicole Liebelt.

Both the Lajoie and Jones families deny getting offers for assistance from PG&E. Instead, PG&E has asked them to pay deposits equal to two times their average monthly bill.

"What the deposit means to me, is kind of an excuse for more money. It's out of the blue. It was unexpected," says Fernando Dellanoce of Hayward.

7 on Your Side called PG&E on behalf of both customers and it agreed to delay the deposit for six months.

"Once a customer has achieved a 6-month period with an account in good standing, we will then waive the deposit requirement," Liebelt says.

An effort to convince all four California utilities to extend the moratorium until the next Public Utilities Commission meeting on January 21st fell short Tuesday.

For more information, customers can call 1-800-743-5000 or visit www.pge.com.


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