Long, harsh winter conditions are costly for PG&E

By Lenore Rutherford, The Union Democrat July 08, 2011 10:05 am

    PG&E’s automatic refunds for people who lost power for days at a stretch during this epic weather year earned public relations points.
    The utility ended up giving refunds to almost 7,300 customers in Tuolumne County alone, and 26,000 refunds throughout Northern California.
    “I don’t have the total cost,” said Nicole Liebelt of PG&E, “but it was substantial.”
       PG&E has a claims process that people can use to be reimbursed for losses they incur that are caused by power outages lasting more than 48 hours.
    “But these storms were so severe,” she said, “that we just figured that every customer who went without power for 48 hours or more had losses, and we paid them automatically.”
    She said the refunds, which ranged from $25 to $100, were based on the duration of the outages.
    “It doesn’t make up for the loss of power for multiple days,” she said. “It’s just our way of acknowledging the inconvenience people went through.”
    Some of the hardest his areas were Twain Harte and Arnold.
    “The refunds were a good thing overall in conjunction with the fact that there were a lot of trucks up here and PG&E had a number you could call to get an update of when they expected to get your power back on,” said John Kinsfather, president of the Twain Harte Homeowners Association. “Those things are smart things to do. They give people a sense that something is being done, and that makes a big difference.”
    He did question the criteria, though, saying he got one refund for $70 and another one for $25, though he thought the power was out for about the same amount of time during both series of storms.
    This was the fifth wettest year in recorded history. So much snow fell at relatively low levels in the foothills that thousands of people were without power for days at a stretch as trees fell under the pressure of the heavy snow.
    The weather year runs from July 1 through June 30. The 2010-11 year just ended.
    The first round of storms in November caused so much damage that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, opening the way for reimbursement. Storms continued through December.
    January was very dry, and so was the first half of February, causing some to think spring was on the way.
    But then it all happened again in March. There was snow and rain and falling trees with more power outages, some lasting several days.
    It was difficult, but people said they were comforted by seeing hundreds of PG&E crews working round the clock to get power restored. And when the refund checks started coming, they were grateful, even if the refunds didn’t pay in total for their loss and inconvenience.
    People who have experienced an outage of 48 hours or more can call PG&E at 1-888-743-4743. PG&E will provide payments to residential customers determined to be without power for more than 48 hours because of a severe storm. The payments will range from $25 to $100, depending on the length of the outage.

    Contact Lenore Rutherford at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or 588-4585.