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California Scrutinizing SoCalGas Billing Practices

California regulators have launched a proceeding to consider penalizing Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) for billing snafus that impacted potentially millions of customers between 2014 and 2016.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) began a penalty consideration case based on conclusions made in a staff investigation, which started when it received almost 700 billing-related consumer complaints between June 2015 and May 2016.

According to CPUC, the investigation showed that SoCalGas repeatedly failed to issue timely monthly bills to 47,000 customers during the winter of 2015-2016; extended the billing period for 140,000 customers in November and December 2015; did the same to more than 13.57 million customers from 2014 to 2016; and issued more than nine million estimated bills.

The penalty consideration case would determine if the utility violated any rules pertaining to billing practices. Following the proceeding, the five-member CPUC may determine if rules have been violated and what, if any, penalties should be assessed.

During the penalty consideration proceeding, SoCalGas, CPUC staff, and interested parties are to provide testimony to an administrative law judge, who would make recommendations to CPUC.  "If warranted, the recommendation may include statutory fines and penalties of up to $50,000 per each day of a continuing violation of law against SoCalGas," a spokesperson said.

The CPUC also is considering whether its rule governing estimated billing should be revised, and whether SoCalGas shareholders should absorb costs related to incremental meter read workforce and the temporary workforce it employed to address bill validation problems.

A SoCalGas spokesperson said the utility is cooperating in the investigation and expects to be cleared of wrongdoing.

“SoCalGas is committed to providing our customers with timely and accurate bills,” the spokesperson said. “We have been notified of the CPUC’s order and will cooperate with the investigation. The investigation concerns a small percentage of bills during a specific time period.

“Although we are still in the preliminary stages of review, SoCalGas expects to present facts and arguments demonstrating that SoCalGas did not violate its tariffs, that fines/penalties are not warranted, and that other proposed corrective actions are not necessary.”

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