The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Thursday directed all of the state's investor-owned natural gas and electric utilities to take steps to reduce the rate of growth in service disconnections to residential energy customers.

Across-the-board rates of disconnections in California have been rising steadily since 2011, according to the five-member CPUC. The regulators said immediate reforms are needed under a new state law to help reduce the statewide level of service cutoffs for residential energy users and to improve the reconnection process.

SB 598, which was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, requires the CPUC to address the goal of reducing the statewide rates by Jan. 1, 2024. In addition, the regulators must analyze the impacts of any utility rate increases on disconnection rates in utility general rate cases.

The CPUC directed 10 investor-owned utilities to immediately:

  • Prohibit disconnections to elderly and medically vulnerable customers, including those qualifying for medical baseline rates, life support and/or people above 65 years old;
  • Prevent disconnections in extremely hot or freezing weather; and
  • Limit the rate of disconnections to 2017 levels.

Among the state's four largest private sector utilities, Southern California Edison Co. in 2017 had nearly one in 10 of its customers disconnected (9.75%), Pacific Gas and Electric Co. was next at 5.41%, with San Diego Gas and Electric Co. (3.31%) and Southern California Gas Co. (2.10%) in the lower spots.

The new rules will remain in place while the CPUC considers longer term solutions to reduce disconnections and improve reconnection processes and outcomes, said CPUC spokesperson Terrie Prosper.

Also on Thursday, the CPUC approved a $56 million series of pilot projects to bring renewable-based electrification and/or natural gas service to 11 rural communities lacking gas utility service in the central San Joaquin Valley.

Communities will pilot different strategies to ultimately help decide how to address the issue more broadly in the region. A total of 1,874 homes spread over the 11 communities will be part of projects offered either by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. or Southern California Edison Co.