Two Consumer Groups Want PG&E to Pay for Billing Violations

By Published On: February 10, 2006

Pacific Gas & Electric should pay up to $124 million to atone for controversial billing practices that allegedly violate the California Public Utilities Commission’s billing rules, according to consumer advocates. The CPUC’s Consumer Protection Safety Division urged state regulators in a February 3 filing to require PG&E to pay $177 million in customer refunds, plus interest. It also wants the CPUC to fine the utility $6.75 million for delayed and estimated billings – instead of ones based on meter readings – and for objectionable power shutoffs. The Utility Reform Network recommended that PG&E be required to refund ratepayers $53 million and contribute $1 million to a low-income assistance program. Both groups insist the payment come out of PG&E shareholders’ pockets. In September 2004, the CPUC initiated an investigation into some of the utility?s billing practices after a spike in consumer complaints (Circuit, Sept. 10, 2004). Subsequently, the commission revised its tariff?s definition, categorizing delayed and estimated utility bills as “billing error.” In November 2004, TURN called for an investigation. Meanwhile, PG&E unsuccessfully petitioned for a rehearing at the CPUC. The utility then filed suit, and the matter is pending in the appellate court. PG&E ?neither prevented, detected,? nor ?disclosed? the billing violations, according to the CPUC?s consumer division. ?PG&E has taken steps to rectify the situation but only after being ordered to do so by the commission,? it stated. Between January 2003 and April 2004, service to 1,310 residences and 14 nonresidences was cut off after receipt of delayed bills, the CPUC consumer division found. ?We regret any inconvenience? caused to our customers, ?but we believe we acted responsibly, appropriately and openly to minimize these problems,? PG&E said in a February 3 statement. TURN recommended that in addition to the refund and $1 million contribution to the Relief for Energy Assistance Through Community Help program, PG&E compensate customers $100 when their electricity or gas is erroneously shut off. The utility?s response to the TURN and CPUC division?s reports are due March 31. Hearings are set to begin at the CPUC on May 5. PG&E said in a February 6 Securities and Exchange Commission filing that the outcome ?could have a material adverse effect on PG&E Corp. or the utility?s financial condition or results on operations.?

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