Jay Allen Sanford 9:45 p.m., May 19
UCAN to Fight Another SDGE Program to Fleece Customers
As part of its general rate case, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDGE) wants to institute a so-called "prepaid utility service program" that would allow the utility to disconnect a customer four days after payments are exhausted. The Division of Ratepayer Advocates, part of the California Public Utilities Commission, says that this abrupt dropping of service is much shorter than the current legally required minimum notice. "I think this is going to hurt the most vulnerable households the worst," says Kim Malcolm, who came in recently as executive director of watchdog Utility Consumers' Action Network (UCAN). "There will be funds in a household account and when the funds get to zero, service will be cut off."
A study by the National Consumer Law Center indicates that the prepayment program harms low- and moderate-income consumers, and will result in more frequent loss of service for nonpayment. In particular, the center notes that this program, which would be the first of its kind in California, will endanger people's health, as refrigerators suddenly go dark and food spoils, among other dangers to the neediest families.
Malcolm points out that there will be public hearings on SDGE's general rate case (not just the prepaid program) this month. Dates: June 26, 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. in Chula Vista, 276 4th Ave.; June 27, 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. in San Diego, Al Bahr Shrine Center, 5440 Kearny Mesa Road, and June 28, 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. in Escondido at the arts center, 340 N. Escondido Blvd. Malcolm hopes San Diego County residents will turn out to protest the prepaid program, as well as other attempts by the utility to pass costs to its customers.
To me, SDGE's attempt to impose the prepayment program on customers is another example of the company's philosophy of putting its entire emphasis on the profits of its parent, Sempra Energy (already one of the most profitable utilities in the U.S.), while ignoring the needs of customers, the community, employees, the general economy, and vendors.
Malcolm now heads a staff of nine at UCAN. However, according to the settlement agreement in UCAN's earlier failed attempt to dissolve, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, which has four employees, will be transferred out of UCAN if Superior Court and the Attorney General concur. Also, Michael Shames, who preceded Malcolm as executive director, resigned as a part of the settlement agreement. He will continue to provide counsel, at least through the rate case. Also, if the settlement is approved, four of the five board members will be replaced within six months if possible.