SAN FRANCISCO–The Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA), an independent consumer advocacy division of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), applauds today’s CPUC order requiring utilities to adopt more reasonable bill payment and disconnection policies.
Unanimously, the CPUC voted to order the state’s four largest investor-owned energy utilities — Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas and Electric Company, and Southern California Gas Company — to proactively offer customers at least three months (and up to 12 months) to pay off past utility debt before disconnecting service. To further alleviate debt burdens, the utilities were also directed by the CPUC to stop requiring customers to pay deposits to re-establish service regardless of payment history. Currently, the utilities charge deposits equal to two-times the average monthly bill. When added to energy bill balances, these deposits can push customers already struggling to pay to become unable to pay altogether. In addition to these immediate measures, the CPUC initiated formal consideration of bill collection practices and policies best designed to permanently reduce utility service disconnections. The CPUC expects to conclude its consideration by June 2010.
“Today’s order demonstrates the importance the CPUC has placed on the disconnection issue and comes not a moment too soon,” said DRA Director Dana Appling. “As DRA’s recent report on disconnections showed, the problem has been getting worse. The utilities themselves have even reported that 2010 would see an even greater increase in customer disconnections. This review of bill payment and collection policies is a victory for California’s customers.”
The order also provides a potential avenue of relief for those low income families who are struggling to pay their utility debt. For these customers, the order authorizes the utilities to attempt to secure federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act matching funds currently offered to the states to assist needy families.
“Energy service is a life necessity, not a luxury,” Appling said. “The CPUC took a critical step today by ensuring the utilities give customers a reasonable chance to meet their obligations.”
For more information on DRA, visit www.dra.ca.gov.