Energy shut off provisions set to expire

December 13, 2011 8:24:15 PM PST
The number of families who've had their power disconnected because they've been unable to pay has fallen this year. But the emergency provisions that have helped hundreds of families are due to expire at the end of the month.

The California Public Utilities Commission, on Thursday, is expected to temporarily extend those provisions until a permanent decision can be made. Some are now pushing for a cap on PG&E's ability to cut off your power.

"They gave me a 48-hour notice and they wanted to, they were going to shut it off completely," said Esther Juarez from San Francisco.

Juarez is unemployed, putting three children through college, and raising her developmentally delayed son, Cas.

"I've lived here for seven-and-a-half years," said Cas.

Cas and the rest of the family were 48 hours away from losing the power to their San Francisco home because they couldn't afford to pay their PG&E bill, but then the emergency provisions kicked in.

"She worked with me as far as saying that whatever is past due, she would add partial payments of what was past due to my current bill," said Juarez.

The provisions were put in place in February 2010 require PG&E to give customers who qualify a minimum of three months to pay off their delinquent bills. PG&E must personally meet with a customer before shutting it off, if the customer depends on power for their medical needs. And if a customer is disconnected, the utility is prevented from charging customers a credit deposit to restore their power.

When the California Public Utilities Commission implemented the provisions, PG&E had the largest disconnection rate of poor people out of all four major utilities in California, more than 8 percent. But that's since dropped to 5.6 percent. Many credit the provisions, but PG&E does not.

"We have programs for income qualified customers such as the CARE program and the REACH Program. What we've been doing is a better job of getting the word about those programs to our customers," said Katie Romans from PG&E.

But the consumer advocate division of the CPUC is pushing for a maximum disconnection of 5 percent by PG&E.

"It's reasonable for PG&E. It will allow their credit and collections departments to continue to work to find the best tools to support customers with low income," said Camille Watts Zagha from the Division of Ratepayers Advocates.

The Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group, agrees with the proposal.

"Electricity and gas are absolute necessities. They're not luxuries and TURN will not stop fighting until utility shutoffs are a thing of the past," said Mark Toney from TURN.

A final decision on extending protections for low income customers is at least two months away. We'll stay on top of it and keep you posted.


Load Comments