San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) officials today applauded actions by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to increase discounts and expand eligibility standards for the limited-income utility customers to participate in the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) rate-discount program.
The new standard will make an additional 70,000, customers eligible for the program and will increase the discount on customers' bills to 20 percent from 15 percent. Approximately 147,000 SDG&E customers currently are enrolled in the CARE program.
"We support the CPUC's actions to increase the availability of assistance through the CARE program, because we are concerned about the impact of higher electricity costs on our community, especially on our low-income customers," said Pamela J. Fair, vice president of customer services for SDG&E. "The increased availability and enhanced benefit of the CARE program, in addition to our more aggressive outreach programs, will bring welcome financial help to many more customers."
The CPUC yesterday also increased the eligibility guidelines to include customers with income at or less than 175 percent of federal poverty guidelines.
The new annual limits are:
Household of 1 or 2 - $22,000
Household of 3 - $25,900
Household of 4 - $31,100
Each additional person - Add $5,200
Fair said that, over the past several months, SDG&E has significantly increased its outreach efforts to lower-income customers, including:
v The free exchange of more than 9,000 lightbulbs for more energy-efficient bulbs at some 30 events held for seniors and low-income customers this year.
v Increased communications to customers concerning low-income assistance, including billing informational inserts, advertising, news releases and kiosk displays in shopping malls.
v More aggressive outreach through SDG&E's low-income energy efficiency programs, which will provide free education and energy-efficiency measures to an estimated 40,000 customers this year. SDG&E also recently expanded its notification system concerning the availability of low-income assistance to include 5,600 mobile-home-park operators.
Partnerships with community-based organizations to conduct a series of presentations throughout the region on low-income assistance and energy-efficiency programs in Spanish, Vietnamese, Laotian, Russian and several Middle Eastern, African and Eastern European languages. The company expects to reach an additional 30,000 customers through this program in 2001, up from 20,000 last year.
"We want our customers in need to be aware of the help that's available to them in the form of direct assistance, energy-efficiency upgrades and flexible payment options," Fair said. "We are spreading the word about these options through a broad range of channels."
SDG&E resumed collection activities earlier this year after a six-month moratorium, and its disconnection activities are now approaching its average historical levels, Fair said. For the first five months of 2001, there were 5,582 disconnections, compared to 9,290 during the same period last year and 11,583 in the first five months of 1999. The total disconnection rate for 2001 represents less than one-half of 1 percent of SDG&E's 1.2 million customers.
SDG&E is encouraging any customers who receive late-payment notices to call SDG&E at (800) 411-SDGE to set up payment arrangements. SDG&E has in place a successful program of working with customers to set up flexible payment plans and to refer qualified customers to bill-assistance resources, Fair said.