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CPUC Acts to Further Help Those Affected by the October 2017 Wildfires; Reminds of Protections Available for All Wildfire-Impacted Customers

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), in its ongoing efforts to monitor consumer protections related to wildfires, today approved Pacific Gas and Electric Company's (PG&E) request to continue to waive the costs for installing temporary electricity for those affected by the October 2017 wildfires in Northern California.

The October 2017 wildfires impacted Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Solano, Sonoma, and Yuba counties, and damaged or destroyed several thousand structures in PG&E's service territory. PG&E asked the CPUC for approval to continue to waive the Rule 13 tariff requirement under which applicants of temporary service are required to pay in advance the estimated installation and removal costs of service extensions for temporary power. This waiver was first authorized by the CPUC in November 2017, recognizing that restoring service to wildfire-impacted customers allows communities to begin to rebuild.

PG&E customer outreach data and field observations show that significant rebuilding efforts will take place during the remainder of 2018 and through 2019. The utility company now has until December 31, 2019, to improve safety and service for customers who need temporary electric service.

"Many state and local agencies must play a part when communities in California rebuild after a wildfire. Our action today helps communities at the ground level while they rebuild," said Commissioner Liane M. Randolph.

The CPUC previously approved customer protections that are automatically available as a result of a wildfire State of Emergency being declared in California. They are available to customers affected by the 2017 and 2018 wildfires, and they include:

Electric and Natural Gas Utility Customer Protections

  • Disconnections: Wildfire-impacted customers cannot be disconnected for nonpayment and associated fees.
  • Discontinue Billing: Utilities must discontinue billing customers whose homes are not capable of receiving utility services, and utilities cannot asses a disconnection charge.
  • Waive Deposits: Utilities must waive deposit requirements for affected residents seeking to re-establish service for one year, and must expedite move-in and move-out service requests.
  • Estimated Billing: Utilities must stop energy usage estimates for billing for the time the home/unit was unoccupied as a result of the wildfires.
  • Payment Plans: 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 must 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 12 billing cycles. 
  • Minimum Bills: Utilities must prorate any monthly access charge or minimum charges for affected customers typically assessed so that no customer will bear any of these costs for the time period after the customer's home was rendered unserviceable by a fire.

Water and Sewer Utility Customer Protections

  • Unpaid Bills: Water companies must work cooperatively with affected customers to resolve unpaid bills, and minimize disconnections for non‑payment.
  • Waive Reconnection and Facilities Fees:  Water companies must waive reconnection or facilities fees for affected customers and suspend deposits for affected customers who must reconnect to the system.
  • Payment Plans: Water companies must provide reasonable payment options to affected customers.
  • Bill Waiver Water companies must waive bills for victims who lost their homes. 

Home Telephone Service Customer Protections

Communication companies in fire-impacted areas must refund their customers who have home phone service for the periods that the customers are without service due to the wildfires. Carriers of Last Resort must waive certain charges, such as connection fees, for affected customers.

The proposal voted on is available at: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/PublishedDocs/Published/G000/M237/K694/237694255.PDF

Public Forums in San Jose on Great Oaks Water's Request to Increase Rates

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We are holding two public forums (called Public Participation Hearings) to receive comments about Great Oaks Water Company's request to increase rates for 2019, 2020, and 2021 (Application No. 18-07-002):

When: Thursday, November 29, 2018, 2 p.m. AND 7 p.m.

Where: Santa Teresa Branch Library, 290 International Circle, San Jose, CA 95119

While a quorum of Commissioners and/or their staff may attend, no official action will be taken at the public forums.

For those unable to attend in person, written comments may be submitted to: CPUC Public Advisor, 505 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102, or via email to public.advisor@cpuc.ca.gov. Please refer to proceeding number A.18-07-002 on any written or email correspondence. All public comments received are provided to the CPUC's Commissioners and the Administrative Law Judge assigned to the case.

If specialized accommodations are needed to attend, such as non-English language interpreters, please contact the CPUC's Public Advisor's Office at public.advisor@cpuc.ca.gov or toll free at 866-849-8390.

To receive electronic updates on CPUC proceedings, sign-up for the CPUC's free subscription service at http://subscribecpuc.cpuc.ca.gov.

For more information on Great Oaks Water Company's request, please visit www.cpuc.ca.gov/pph.

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CPUC Fines Rasier-CA $750,000 for Violations of Zero-Tolerance Rules

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) today adopted a settlement agreement between its Consumer Protection and Enforcement Division and Rasier-CA, the entity that is wholly owned by Uber and operates Uber service in California, and fined the company $750,000 for failing to comply with zero-tolerance rules on intoxicating substances with respect to drivers. The CPUC also required the company to implement protocols to improve its zero-tolerance rules and compliance to make transportation safer for the public.

Following Rasier-CA's submission of its annual compliance reports in 2016, CPED began to investigate whether the company failed to suspend and/or investigate drivers after receiving a zero-tolerance complaint from a passenger.

On April 6, 2017, the CPUC opened a proceeding to determine whether Rasier-CA violated the zero-tolerance rules in Safety Requirement D of D.13-09-045. The safety requirement calls for companies like Rasier-CA to establish and enforce a zero-tolerance policy to protect the public against intoxicated drivers.

Of the 154 complaints reviewed between August 12, 2014, and August 31, 2015, CPED determined that Rasier-CA failed to promptly suspend drivers in 149 complaints, failed to investigate 133 complaints, and failed to either suspend or investigate 113 complaints. CPED also determined that the company violated a rule that requires that a driver be suspended promptly "after a zero-tolerance complaint is filed."

CPED and Rasier-CA agreed to the amended settlement agreement the CPUC approved today, under which Rasier-CA will:

  • Pay a penalty in the amount of $750,000;
  • Implement interim zero-tolerance complaints education and investigation protocols; and,
  • File a motion to expand the scope of R.12-12-011 to develop industry-wide standards for zero-tolerance suspensions and investigations.

"Rasier was lax at its earlier compliance with zero-tolerance rules, but I am hopeful it will improve those efforts going forward," said Commissioner Liane M. Randolph. "If Rasier does not improve its compliance with zero-tolerance rules going forward, we will bring further enforcement efforts against the company."

The CPUC began to regulate Rasier-CA's Uber service in 2011-2012, which led to Rulemaking R.12-12-011 to develop rules for the app-based, on-demand passenger transportation industry. With the adoption of D.13-09-045, the CPUC established statewide regulations, rules, and reporting requirements. As part of its oversight authority, CPUC staff reviews annual compliance filings regarding operations by the licensed company providing such service, which includes data on zero tolerance and other passenger safety rules.

Read the proposal voted on.

View documents related to the proceeding.

Join Us for a Residential Electric Rate Summit

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is holding a Residential Electric Rate Summit that will focus on plans for the residential time-of-use rate default, including the utilities' plans for marketing and outreach, the statewide/Energy Upgrade California campaign, and the results of a baseline study that was conducted. There will also be a panel discussion on the high usage charge and a panel discussion on what has been learned from various time-of-use pilots and the ongoing time-of-use default in SMUD's territory.

When: Nov. 13, 2018, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Where: CPUC Auditorium, 505 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco; also available via webcast at www.adminmonitor.com/ca/cpuc

Join us and learn when the utilities plan on beginning time-of-use default and what the plans for communicating with different customer groups will be. 

This workshop is required by decision D.15-07-001.

View the Agenda

CPUC Issues $50,000 Citation to Alpine Natural Gas for Violations

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We have issued a $50,000 citation to Alpine Natural Gas (ANG) for violation of leak survey interval requirements. 

During a scheduled inspection in 2017, our Safety and Enforcement Division (SED) reviewed leak survey records and found 88 instances where plat maps in ANG's residential areas were surveyed at intervals greater than required by state and federal code.

The Citation is available at: www.cpuc.ca.gov/General.aspx?id=2494.

ANG has 30 calendar days from Nov. 2, 2018, to pay or file an appeal.

The CPUC requires the immediate correction of any unsafe condition. SED has staff-level authority to issue Citations to natural gas companies for violation of CPUC or federal gas safety codes and regulations.

Safety violations are identified through SED's ongoing audits, inspections, and investigations; by the utilities themselves through mandatory disclosure requirements; or through the CPUC's whistleblower program for anonymous and protected reporting of violations. Whistleblowers can call 1-800-649-7570 or email safetyhotline@cpuc.ca.gov.

The CPUC also has an online whistleblower reporting form at https://ia.cpuc.ca.gov/whblow/ where complaints can be submitted anonymously.

Making EPIC Decisions to Benefit Energy Research and Development

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By Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves

When the CPUC established the EPIC program in late 2011, its goal was to support investments in clean energy technologies that are beneficial to electricity ratepayers served by the three large investor-owned utilities and to the state of California. The program has been beneficial, and with some recent improvements adopted by the CPUC at our last Voting Meeting, we've taken a number of significant steps that I believe will enhance its performance.

EPIC, which stands for the Electric Program Investment Charge, is the largest state-level energy research and development program in the nation.  It funds clean energy research and projects that support the state's climate and energy goals while also promoting greater reliability, lower costs, and increased safety.

Our largest partner in the program, the California Energy Commission (CEC), fills in critical funding gaps in energy innovation aimed at decarbonizing our buildings, transportation system, residential homes and businesses, and the electricity grid.  Given its ambitious mission, it is imperative that the program be well managed and thoughtfully coordinated so ratepayers and California realize the maximum benefit from their investment, especially as we continue to pursue the state's ambitious climate and renewable energy goals.  

At a time when the federal government is reducing its own investments in clean energy and other public interest programs to reduce greenhouse gases, it's more important than ever that EPIC be run in the most effective and efficient way possible.  

For all those reasons and more, the CPUC voted unanimously at its last Voting Meeting to adopt the second decision emerging from an ongoing proceeding that comprehensively addresses some broad and forward-looking EPIC improvements. These improvements will increase the value and importance of this energy innovation program both to ratepayers and to energy policymakers.

The first action we took in the proceeding came in January, when we approved the bulk of EPIC's funding - the 80 percent administered by the CEC - and established a framework for better coordination that the new decision implements.

Our latest decision addresses each of the more than 30 recommendations for EPIC program improvements that resulted from an independent evaluation of the program completed last year.  

That evaluation found that, although EPIC is still young - most projects didn't begin until 2014 and 2015 - it is on track and showing strong signs of energy advancements and ratepayer benefits. 

We've now approved the full details and budget for a new process to better coordinate CPUC goals with EPIC investments. Along with the CPUC's Energy Division, we have high hopes for what we're now calling the Policy + Innovation Coordination Group that will focus on identifying key CPUC areas of interest that need to be informed by EPIC research. The group will also establish a communication and coordination process designed to ensure that everyone associated with the program is kept in the information loop and working on common goals. Without a formal, targeted process, that level of coordination does not always occur.  Now, I believe that it will. 

We also want to make sure everyone enjoys the benefits of the program, so this latest action we took included considerations for how to target the program to disadvantaged communities, or DACs. The CEC has already committed to targeting at least 25 percent of its technology demonstration funds to DACs, and a minimum of 10 percent to communities that are 
low income. And while we did not adopt specific minimum requirements for the utilities' programs, we are making a few targeted improvements. 

Forthcoming filings from the utilities to employ EPIC funds may include new projects, and the CPUC will provide guidance for how these should funds can be utilized in disadvantaged communities. Also, program administrators will conduct workshops to help DACs inform and engage with the program, as well as train them to apply for funding. Finally, we lay out a number of ways to target DACs we'll consider for the future. 

Last, the decision adopted last week envisions that we will open a rulemaking to consider extending the funding for EPIC - right now, it's only authorized through 2020 - as well as other changes and improvements to program rules and details. 

As someone who was involved in starting EPIC when I worked in Governor Brown's office before coming to the CPUC, I take pride in its mission and look forward to continuing to help it achieve good results for our state.

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