PG&E customers to get refund

PG&E customers to get refund
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- Mary Sickler rushed into the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. office to make a partial payment on her $400 utility bill. Otherwise, her service would be cut.

"I felt for a long time they've been overcharging me, but there's nothing you can do about it," said Sickler.

PG&E customers will be getting some relief in the form of a refund from
the giant utility company. The California Public Utilities Commission approved a refund of $424 million to PG&E customers.

This is because PG&E over-collected from ratepayers this year due to an unanticipated decline in energy prices.

The PUC says the average customer will see a refund of about $35 in the form of a credit on their PG&E bill. But low-income consumers and energy-efficient households that use little energy won't get a refund because they have been insulated from recent rate hikes.

"We expected natural gas to be more expensive than it was," said PG&E representative Denny Boyles. "When the natural gas came in less expensive than we anticipated we refund the difference."

But others suspect the timing of the refund is over widespread customer discontent with PG&E's SmartMeters. Many blame the SmartMeter as being the culprit for astronomical energy bills they never had before.

The PUC, however, said the refund is not related to any deficiency in the SmartMeter program. It says PG&E filed its request for a refund on Aug. 14.

State senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, has asked the PUC to require independent testing of PG&E's SmartMeters and related software by a third-party technical expert.

The PUC is working on finding an independent party to do that.

"We welcome independent testing," said Denny Boyles of PG&E.