PG&E disconnection policies examined at meeting


One consumer group insists the number of disconnects is higher than ever -- up 75 percent over last year.

/*PG&E*/ is disputing that 75 percent increase number, but there is one thing everyone agrees on -- more people are hurting this year than last year and something needs to be done about it, and now.

The chairman of the Public Utilities Commission is saying that help needs to be found "almost immediately," and not in the six to nine-month time period this kind of assistance can take to accomplish.

Greenlining Institute is alleging the 75 percent increase in low income shutoffs, PG&E claims it is 24 percent -- both blame the bad economy.

"We need long-term solutions that will be put in place permanently to allow customers that fall a little bit behind too far on their bills to get caught up in an affordable manner, so that we don't come even close to the risk of having their lights and heat turned off," said Stephanie Chen of the Greenlining Institute.

"We have a number of financial assistance programs such as the CARE Program which offers a 20 percent discount to customers as well as a lower rate. We also have the REACH Program which offers a one-time payment assistance. All of those financial assistance programs are income qualified," said PG&E spokesperson Nicole Liebelt.

Consumer groups such as the Division of Rate Payer Advocates point out that most people who are disconnected get reconnected at some point, so they want to try and avoid the costs of disconnect and reconnect.

Some at the meeting said that SmartMeters make disconnections much faster. They say that needs to be looked at because people need a longer time to pay their bills.

If you're struggling with your economic situation, call 211. It's a free service offered by United Way of the Bay Area to link you to services.

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