PG&E pays for power loss

SANTA ROSA, CALIFORNIA - PG&E customers left without power for days after early January storms can look forward to receiving cheques for up to $100, utility officials said.

But whether that will be enough to satisfy people who were left in the dark of winter, without heat or hot showers, and with food spoiling in the refrigerator, is an open question.

"How do you put a price on a sleepless night?" said Nina Hugill, whose Coffey Park home in northwest Santa Rosa was among about two dozen that were without power for more than 72 hours.

She and her husband, Doug, had difficulty sleeping, knowing their electric smoke alarm was useless after the power went out in a storm Jan. 4.

Hugill, a stay-at-home mother with four children, said the need for the alarm may have been remote, but the possibility of a fire always exists and "we didn't feel comfortable."

In March, PG&E began sending out apologies and cheques to residential customers like the Hugills, who were among 104,000 accounts that were left without power for at least 48 hours.

"We understand that when customers are without power, it is truly an inconvenience," PG&E spokeswoman Jana Morris said. "We want them to make sure we recognize that inconvenience, and it's a small way that we can help them out and give them whatever the allowed money is."

The payouts are for residential customers only.

PG&E is paying $25 to those who were without power for 48 hours to 72 hours, $50 for 72 hours to 96 hours, $75 for 96 hours to 120 hours and $100 for 120 hours or more.

The total payout statewide is around $5 million.

Morris said customers don't need to apply to get the money. The payments are automatic.

"We have the ability to see who has been without power 48 hours or more," she said.

In Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties, more than 7,000 customers will receive payments totaling $309,000.

A spokeswoman for a utility watchdog group said receiving a payment is better than nothing. "But it's not as good as reliable service," said Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network.

She said blackouts "should not continue to happen on a regular basis as they seem to."

Customers, she said, "are paying top dollar. They ought to get top service."

She said one of the reasons some people get so angry at PG&E is they can't seem to get reliable information during blackouts, including when power might be restored.

Spatt said customers unhappy with PG&E's service can file complaints with the state Public Utilities Commission.

There also is a claims application process for those who want to be compensated for storm damage over and above the automatic payouts PG&E is making.

Morris said PG&E does not disclose how many customers have filed claims.

But she said customers are "more than welcome" to file claims for damage caused by the outages and can do so by going to www.pge.com/claims or calling (800) 743-5000.

But the company also notes that generally speaking, PG&E is responsible for damages due to its own negligence, not for forces beyond its control, such as power failures caused by weather-related conditions.

Wind was a big factor in the early January storms, along with saturated ground that caused trees to topple.

Nina Hugill said her family never got an explanation for why the power was out for so long in the pocket of homes where they live on Mocha Lane.

The couple ended up packing up their children and going to their time-share condominium in Windsor, waiting for days for power to be restored.

Knowing that a PG&E cheque for $50 is coming their way is of little consequence. The Hugills say they still plan to file a claim because they believe their damages were much greater.



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