PG&E gets spanked

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Uh oh, PG&E's in trooouble!!
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The California Public Utilities Commission, the state agency tasked with regulating investor-owned utilities, seldom holds Pacific Gas & Electric Co.'s feet to the fire -- even when advocacy groups are in an uproar over company practices. However, this may be changing.

PG&E's brazen effort to alter the state constitution by placing Proposition 16 on the ballot to secure its own competitive advantage over municipal power programs drew skepticism from Commission President Michael Peevey, a former energy executive, at a hearing in March. And yesterday, the CPUC issued a stern warning to PG&E that it must stop breaking the law, now. In a strongly worded letter, CPUC executive director Paul Clanon ordered the San Francisco-based corporation to halt practices employed in Marin County to urge customers not to join the county’s brand-new Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program, which will launch officially on Friday, May 7. Customers are automatically enrolled into the municipal power program, which offers a greener energy mix than PG&E, unless they take steps to opt out.

Under Public Utilities Commission law, there are only two legal methods of opting out: Customers can notify the Marin Energy Authority, which presides over the CCA, either by phone or online. Nonetheless, PG&E has tried creating new channels for customers to leave the fledgling CCA and go back to PG&E, the CPUC noted in a press release. One tactic is to send out mailers that are designed to look like real opt-out notices, which are “likely to create unnecessary customer confusion,” according to the regulatory agency. Another method is telephoning customers to ask them to opt out, then transferring the call that PG&E initiated to a PG&E customer service representative. Aside from bombarding energy customers with annoying telemarketing pitches and junk mail solicitations, these tactics are a violation of state law. The CPUC not only told PG&E to stop immediately, it did so publicly.

“I expect PG&E to cooperate fully with the directives given today and comply with the community choice aggregation law in California,” said CPUC Executive Director Paul Clanon.