Pacific Gas & Electric was ordered to pay $23 million to its customers to end a two-year investigation into “illegal” back-billing and erroneous utility bill estimates occurring over five years. Although the refund is a fraction of the $117 million fine called for by the California Public Utilities Commission’s Consumer Protection Division and does not include a penalty, the utility said it will appeal the administrative law judge’s February 20 ruling within 30 days. “We are disheartened by the order,” Jon Tremayne, PG&E spokesperson, said of the order by CPUC administrative law judge Hallie Yacknin. PG&E installed a new computerized billing system in late 2002 affecting 6 million gas and electric bills. Tremayne acknowledged that there were “some bumps in the road” but added, “We tackled the problems as quickly as we could.” PG&E erroneously sent 157,000 ratepayers delayed bills between January 2000 and April 2005. It charged another 73,000 customers incorrect bill estimates between October 2001 and April 2005. The utility also shut off power to ratepayers who did not pay erroneous utility bills, notes the order. That led to a spike in consumer complaints at the CPUC and a probe into PG&E’s billing techniques (Circuit, Sept. 24, 2004). The administrative law judge found the billings “illegal” under the CPUC code and ordered that the money to pay the refunds come from shareholders’ pockets, not ratepayer funds. “PG&E’s ability to comply with its tariffs is entirely within its control authority; it’s not the ratepayers’ responsibility,” Yacknin wrote. She declined to slap on a penalty after concluding that PG&E responded promptly to the computerized billing glitch. Yacknin did order PG&E to provide credits of between $50 and $100 to ratepayers who had their gas and electricity wrongly shut off because of nonpayment of overestimated bills.