The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Thursday took steps to counter utility residential customer shutoffs, which were experienced earlier in the year among customers of the state's major private-sector utilities. The action was prompted by what many think is fallout from the continuing economic recession and double-digit unemployment levels.

CPUC members wanted to take action before the winter of 2010-2011 when the problem could accelerate again. This latest action is part of the CPUC's ongoing proceeding on bad debt management and shutoff prevention. Potentially impacted are the millions of residential customers served by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison Co. (SCE), San Diego Gas and Electric Co. (SDG&E) and Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas).

"This decision represents another step toward ensuring California households keep their gas and electric services on during the continuing economic downturn," said Commissioner Dian Grueneich, who added that the CPUC's action aims to help customers who are "financially limited" and most hurt by the economic downturn.

Without a voluntary solution by all the state's major utilities earlier this year, the CPUC in February ordered interim actions by the IOUs to address the then-mushrooming problem of energy utility service disconnections, along with opening a statewide proceeding on the festering issue (see Daily GPI, Feb. 5). Thursday's action came following stakeholder feedback and ideas that the regulators have collected so far.

The CPUC established several measures to address the disconnection issue:

The latest guidelines require that any of their customer service representatives inform customers with past-due amounts that they have the right to arrange for a bill payment plan extended for a minimum of three months to repay arrearages.

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