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San Diego Gas & Electric says a record number of customers unable to pay their utility bills received assistance last year through its Neighbor-to-Neighbor Fund.

For each dollar donated to the program by a customer or employee, SDG&E dedicates $4 from profits otherwise paid to shareholders in the utility, up to a maximum of $200,000, according to a press release yesterday. The firm did not disclose how much money was actually allocated to the program or how many consumers sought or received assistance, beyond saying the number of customers benefitting from the program more than doubled as compared to 2010 figures.

Assistance is available one time only on a first-come, first-served basis and provides a maximum individual benefit of $200 to customers experiencing a temporary financial hardship, or a maximum of $400 for customers on life support.

SDG&E has come [under fire][2] recently for its attempt to bill ratepayers for over $463 million in losses associated with the 2007 wildfires as well as any future costs not covered by insurance, rather than deducting such costs from shareholder profits. These shareholders, meanwhile, have seen their stock prices in SDG&E parent Sempra [rise over 200 percent][3] during a time then the S&P utilities index rose only 8 percent. The extra burden the utility seeks to place on ratepayers is roughly 2,315 times as much as the maximum donation in the program touted by the company in its recent press release.

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