Emergency customer protections for California residents

As adopted in Resolutions M-4833 and M-4835, specific emergency customer protections have been outlined upon the declaration of a state of emergency by the governor or president where the disaster has caused (1) a disruption or receipt of utility services; and/or (2) the degradation of the quality of the utility service to residential and small business customers. The customer protections shall commence upon the issuance of the emergency proclamation and conclude no sooner than twelve months from the date of commencement or as appropriately determined by CalOES.

All customers located in California whose utility service is disrupted or degraded, within an area that is declared to be a state of emergency by the governor or president, shall be covered under the protections set forth here.

Discontinue billing

The utility is directed to identify the premises of affected customers whose utility service has been disrupted or degraded and discontinue billing those premises without assessing a disconnection charge.

Prorate any monthly access charge or minimum charges

The utility is directed to prorate any monthly access charge or minimum charges for affected customers typically assessed so that no customer shall bear any of these costs for the time period after the customer’s home and/or business was rendered unserviceable by the disaster. Additionally, the utility is directed to recalibrate its approach for estimating energy usage to account for reduced consumption during the period of time the home/unit was unoccupied as a result of the disaster.

Implement payment plan options for residential customers

Affected customers who have prior arrearages and have lost their homes or have been displaced, and are seeking to establish service in a new residence, shall be offered a payment plan with an initial payment of no greater than 20 percent of the amount due, and with equal installments for the remainder of not less than twelve billing cycles.

For affected customers who currently have service but go into arrearage, the utilities shall offer a payment plan with an initial payment of no greater than 20 percent of the amount due, and with equal installments for the remainder of not less than eight billing cycles. A customer who is offered a payment plan shall not be precluded from paying off an arrearage more quickly. Interest on a balance shall not accrue.

Suspend disconnection for non-payment and associated fees, waive deposit and late free requirements for residential customers

It is reasonable to anticipate that some customers may fall behind on utility payments as they bear the costs of rebuilding their homes. The rules adopted in this decision require the utility to suspend disconnection for non-payment and associated fees for affected customers.

In addition, the utility shall waive the deposit and late fee requirements for affected customers who pay their utility bills late. This waiver shall last for one year from the declared state of emergency. The utilities shall not report late payments by residential customers who are eligible for these protections to credit reporting agencies or to other such credit or collection services. Interest on a balance shall not accrue.

Support low-income residential customers

To support low-income residential customers, the utilities are directed to: (1) freeze all standard and high-usage reviews for the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) program eligibility in impacted customers until at least the end of the 12-month period in which these protections apply and potentially longer, as warranted; (2) contact all community outreach contractors, the community based organizations who assist in enrolling hard-to-reach low-income customers into CARE, to help better inform customers of these eligibility changes; (3) partner with the program administrator of the customer funded emergency assistance program for low-income customers and increase the assistance limit amount for affected customers during the 12 months in which these protections apply; and (4) indicate how the energy savings assistance program can be deployed to assist impacted customers. The emergency disaster protections for CARE (as well as for FERA) customers shall apply to CARE customers only in disaster impacted zip codes, which may include all zip codes in a county depending on circumstances.

Additionally, the utility is to temporarily suspend all CARE and FERA program removals to avoid unintentional loss of the discounted rate during the period for which the customer is protected under these customer protections. The utility shall discontinue generating all recertification and verification requests that require customers to provide their current income information.

The California Legislature also requires the utility to: support customers by offering repair processing and timing assistance and timely access to utility customers. We adopt Section 8386(c)(18) provisions as part of this program. Additionally, these customer protections, as codified in Section 8386(c)(18), should reach all affected victims of disasters. For additional continuity, the utility is directed to include customer protections as part of its larger community outreach and public awareness plans under Section 8386(c)(16)(b).

The intensity of disasters can vary and accordingly, affect utility customers differently and potentially for different amounts of time. The aim of these decisions is to provide continuity and support to customers during times of crisis by establishing minimum disaster relief emergency protocols and protections to assist customers with recovery. To that end, the protections apply to the residents of a dwelling regardless of the name that appears on an account. Therefore, tenants who are not on the account and wish to relocate and re-establish utility service shall receive the customer protections extended in these rulemakings by self-identifying and stating that their residence was in a disaster area.