Customers furious over extra charges on utility bills

Customers are furious over bills they're getting from companies they've never heard of that are adding charges to their utilities bill.
April 29, 2014 9:12:21 PM PDT
Hundreds of PG&E customers are furious over the bills they are getting. Not from PG&E, but from companies they've never heard of that are adding charges to their utility bills.

Get out your bill because you're going to want to check it after this report. Sales people from several independent gas companies are pouring out across Northern California.

They promise to reduce your utility bill with cheaper gas than PG&E offers.

Residents said they had no idea who they were until they found mysterious charges on their PG&E bills.

Nguyen Phan is telling her daughter about the man in the blue jumpsuit who is going door to door in San Pablo.

"They asked me to show the PG&E bill," Phan said.

The man told her she could save $2 a month on her PG&E bill.

So she signed a form. She isn't sure what it said, but two months later a company she never heard of suddenly appeared on her PG&E bill.

"She saw its Blue Spruce Energy in her bill, she say oh you know what happened," Phan said.

The bill said she had to pay PG&E $20 for gas delivery and also pay Blue Spruce Energy of Colorado $38 for the gas.

"They wanted to talk to me about my gas bill," Fairfield resident John Shedlock said.

Shedlock recalls two men knocking on doors here in Fairfield. They told him they could reduce his gas bill too. Shedlock said no thanks, but it didn't end there.

"They said will you at least sign the clipboard so we can show our boss that we talked to you? And I said sure," Shedlock said.

He was shocked the following month when a company called Spark Energy of Texas suddenly appeared on his gas bill. Spark charged him $34 for gas. PG&E charged $26 to deliver it. He claims he was misled into signing up.

"And Spark said well there was nothing they could do, and that there was a contract that had to abide for a year," Shedlock said.

Shedlock and Phan contacted 7 On Your Side. We checked it out and we found there are many gas suppliers going door to door selling gas directly to residents.

Customers who sign up pay the supplier for gas, and PG&E for delivery the gas suppliers say they offer lower rates than PG&E, but they also charge daily fees.

We found Shedlock and Phan actually paid a little more during months they were using the suppliers than they would have with PG&E.

For example according to her bill, PG&E would have charged $27.43 for the gas she used in December. However, Blue Spruce charged her $35.57 for the same gas, which is a little over $8 extra.

PG&E would have charged john $22.35 for his gas in December, but Spark Energy billed him $34, which is almost $12 extra.

Both companies said PG&E rates are higher on average and customers do save money over time. However, the suppliers did agree to cancel the contracts for both customers.

Spark Energy told 7 On Your Side, "After it was brought to our attention that Mr. Shedlock had been misled, we quickly remedied the situation and relieved him of the contract without assessing an early termination fee. Spark Energy immediately reviewed the training and door-to-door code-of-conduct with the vendor working in the PG&E territory to ensure staff always adheres to the highest level of conduct."

Spark also said it charges a fixed rate that protects consumers from PG&E's fluctuating rates. It said Shedlock's bill would have been lower in March had he stayed with the company.

Blue Spruce said, "Blue Spruce has consistently charged our customers a lower rate per therm than the utility in Northern California. Blue Spruce makes many efforts to make sure all customers understand the services it provides and the terms of the contracts before they sign up. Blue Spruce's representatives wear buttons specifically stating we are not affiliated with a utility.

Because Blue Spruce does not require a long-term contract and does not charge any cancellation fee, customers are able to switch back to the utility at any time. "

Which we requested for Phan.

"7 On Your Side helping on our side!" Phan said.

Right now, independent gas suppliers are not regulated by the state Public Utilities Commission.

However, that is about to change. Following complaints from hundreds of customers, a new state law requires PUC oversight.

The commission is about to set rules on how these companies can operate in California.

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