Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said Tuesday it expects to distribute about $50 million in winter natural gas bill credits to nearly half of its residential and business customers who qualified under its 10/20 Plus Winter Gas savings program. Customers cutting their use at least 10% compared to an average of previous years are eligible to receive a 20% credit on their next monthly bill.

The program applied to the customers' gas use in January and February, during which usage needed to drop below a three-year historical average at a given home or business. For every 1% decrease in use, customers received a 1% credit up to 9%. Customers reducing their use by 10% or more received the 20% bill credit.

PG&E said qualifying residential customers are expected to receive an average credit of $20, small business customers are expected to get an average credit of $109, and large commercial customers are expected to receive an average credit of $4,537. This is the second year the utility has offered the program to encourage conservation.

"This year, we enhanced the program to provide even more customers the ability to earn a credit, account for colder weather and compare usage over a three-year period," said Helen Burt, PG&E's chief customer officer. "We are pleased with the early results, which show that our customers want California to continue being a leader in energy conservation."

An estimated 42% of PG&E's more than 5 million residential and business gas utility customers, including agricultural and governmental entities, qualified for a credit this year.

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