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CA PUC Orders Utility Disconnect Limits

February 19 -- The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), in an ongoing effort to reduce the number of natural gas and electric utility residential customer disconnections due to nonpayment, has ordered the state's investor-owned utilities to implement certain interim practices to better assist consumers.

Unanimously, the CPUC voted on February 4 to order the state’s four largest investor-owned energy utilities — Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), San Diego Gas and Electric Company (SDG&E), 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.

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.

The Commission’s action was prompted by a recent report on disconnections by its Division of Ratepayer Advocate, showing that disconnections for low-income customers jumped 19 percent statewide from September 2008 to August 2009. However, PG&E's low-income disconnections jumped 75 percent and its overall disconnections rose 40 percent, the division found. The number of low-income customers disconnected by SCE climbed 21 percent, while its overall disconnections increased 2 percent; SDG&E's low-income disconnections rose 15 percent, while overall disconnections fell 0.2 percent.

About one-third of the 16 million homes served by the state's three investor-owned utilities are considered low-income.

Source: CA newspapers, CPUC, DRA