Welcome to the November edition of the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) eNewsletter, where you’ll find information on new small business back-billing rules, strengthened cramming rules, multi-family solar water heating systems, and more!


Small Business Friendly State

The CPUC on October 28, 2010, voted to take another step to encourage small businesses in the state.

The CPUC revised utility back-billing tariffs so that utilities may only back-bill small businesses for up to three months rather than the current rule of three years. The CPUC also revised utility deposit rules. Currently, small businesses are required to pay upfront twice the maximum monthly bill as a deposit. The CPUC revised the rule to only require small business utility customers to pay twice the average bill. Lastly, the CPUC created a warning system so that a small business will not be caught unaware when they are asked to provide a deposit. Utilities are now required to provide small business customers ample notification prior to asking for a deposit.

It is important that this issue was addressed because many small businesses have called the CPUC asking for help after receiving large back-bills, and deposit requirements. Small businesses are much like residential customers; they do not have the resources available to larger corporations nor the flexibility in accessing funds that bigger businesses have. This is a crucial time for policymakers to ensure that small businesses stay afloat, and as a result of feedback from small businesses the CPUC was able to make the necessary changes.

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CPUC’s 8th Annual Supplier Diversity En Banc a Success

The CPUC, in its ongoing effort to promote supplier diversity and procurement from small businesses, held its 8th annual en banc on October 12, 2010.  CPUC President, Michael R. Peevey, presided over the en banc, which also included Assemblymember Steven Bradford, former Assembly Speaker Gwen Moore, and CPUC Commissioners Dian M. Grueneich, Timothy Alan Simon, and Nancy E. Ryan.

The en banc was attended by more than 225 suppliers, members of the public, and the respective CEOs and/or business leaders of AT&T, Comcast, Cox, Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Sempra Energy, Sprint, and Verizon.  The CPUC also heard from community representatives and chambers of commerce about ways to improve business relationships between companies and suppliers.

One of the intents of the en banc is to shed light on emerging markets and how suppliers can prepare themselves to compete in those markets. Overall, the bigger the pool of suppliers the better for California ratepayers since competition is geared to bring the best product at the lowest cost.

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CPUC Strengthens Cramming Rules

The CPUC has augmented its “cramming” rules in order to provide stronger protections for California’s consumers and prevent unauthorized third-party charges on customer telephone bills.

The CPUC clarified that only the person responsible for charges on a bill (the subscriber) can authorize billing for services by a third-party. Telephone billing corporations (such as landline or wireless carriers, resellers, or their billing agents) are explicitly required to obtain the subscriber’s authorization before billing or causing to be billed any charge on a telephone bill.

The revised rules also make clear that a billing telephone corporation is responsible for refunding all unauthorized charges presented in its bill, regardless of whether the unsuspecting subscriber may have paid the charge. While an unauthorized charge is being investigated, the subscriber will not be required to pay the disputed charge or any associated late charges or penalties, and the charge may not be sent to collection and no adverse credit report may be made based on non-payment of that charge.

Under the strengthened anti-cramming rules, telephone billers are encouraged to provide consumers with a no-cost option to block or limit third-party offerings, such as Premium SMS content (e.g., ringtones) or pay-per-use services. Telephone billers are also to actively inform their subscribers of these options. Additionally, billers are required to report the available blocking options to the CPUC on an annual basis.

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CPUC Announces Availability of Rebates for Multi-Family and Commercial Solar Water Heating Systems

Cash rebates of up to $500,000 are now available for the installation of solar water heating systems on multi-family residences, businesses, and industrial facilities.

On October 8, 2010, the California Solar Initiative (CSI)-Thermal Program began accepting applicants from the multi-family/commercial sector under the $350 million program that promotes the installation of solar water heating systems on homes and businesses served by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas and Electric Company, and Southern California Gas Company.

The CSI-Thermal Program began accepting applications from single-family residents on May 1, 2010, but the program was until now unavailable to the multi-family/commercial sector while the CPUC and Program Administrators worked on technical implementation details. Incentives of up to $500,000 are now available to multi-family/commercial applicants who meet the application criteria, including completion of a one-day training course and installation of equipment that has been certified by the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation. Applicants may apply for rebates online.

The CSI-Thermal Program is the latest addition to the Go Solar California campaign, which encourages the use of solar in California.

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CPUC Names Expert Panelists For Independent Study of San Bruno Explosion

The CPUC has named the experts of an Independent Review Panel that will conduct a comprehensive study and investigation of the September 9, 2010, explosion of a Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) pipeline in San Bruno, including examining the root causes and making recommendations for action by the CPUC to best ensure such an accident is not repeated elsewhere.

The panel members are:

  • Chair - Larry N. Vanderhoef, Chancellor Emeritus, University of California, Davis
  • Patrick Lavin, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 7th District International Executive Council Member; Co-chairman of the Pacific Council on International Policy, Energy Task Force
  • Karl S. Pister, Chair of the Governing Board of the California Council on Science and Technology; Chancellor Emeritus, University of California, Santa Cruz; Dean and Roy W. Carlson Professor of Engineering, Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
  • Paula Rosput Reynolds, President and Chief Executive Officer, PreferWest, LLC; former Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of AGL Resources, a Fortune 1000 Atlanta-based energy services holding company
  • Jan Schori, counsel to the law firm Downey Brand LLP; former General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District; North American Electric Reliability Council Board of Trustees; Climate Action Reserve Board of Directors
Please see the CPUC’s website for detailed biographies, photos, and the Panel’s charter.

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Engage 360 Set to Motivate Consumers to Save Energy and the Environment

The CPUC has created Engage 360, a new brand name and web portal to convey clean energy messaging to consumers.

Engage 360 was developed through a year-long process based on an in-depth, collaborative approach between the CPUC and the state’s investor-owned utilities.

Engage 360 represents a community-based effort to provide Californians with clear and relevant options for saving energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and supporting clean energy solutions. “Business as usual” is no longer an option. Engage 360 will help California create a change in behavior that will effect a meaningful, long-term reduction in energy consumption.

Californians who are adopting and sharing an energy saving way of life can come together on Engage 360’s web portal to help lead change and measure progress to make the Engage 360 movement meaningful to everyone. Visit today!

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Visit our Consumer Information Center for more assistance. Consumers with utility complaints can call our Consumer Affairs Branch at 1-800-649-7570.

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© 2010, California Public Utilities Commission. All rights reserved.
November 2010


Produced by the CPUC's News and Public Information Office and Business and Community Outreach, 415-703-1366, news@cpuc.ca.gov
505 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102.

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