Regulators Approve Measures To Help Fire Victims Handle Utility Bills

California regulators approved a set of emergency consumer protections Thursday to help victims of last month’s wildfires deal with utility bills for homes that were damaged or, in some cases, no longer exist.

The California Public Utilities Commission ordered electric utility companies in nine counties hit by fires to stop disconnecting customers for nonpayment of bills through Nov. 9, 2018.

The utilities must also stop billing customers whose homes were so badly damaged that they can no longer receive service. For the next year, they must waive deposits for displaced customers trying to re-establish service.

Telecommunications companies must refund customers who lost service after the fires erupted.

All of the measures are temporary and apply only to residents of Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Solano, Sonoma and Yuba counties.

The measures closely follow a set of proposals from The Utility Reform Network consumer group, which urged the commission last month to help displaced residents rebuild their homes and lives.

“Phone service, lights and water are essential,” Mark Toney, the group’s executive director, said in a news release. “Customers can’t wait for relief.”

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. had already taken some of the steps on its own.

The company, for example, stopped billing for service in North Bay fire zones after Oct. 8, the day the Wine Country wildfires began. The company also asked the commission to let it waive the normal fees for establishing and disconnecting temporary service. The commission approved that step Thursday.

PG&E has set up a hotline for people repairing or rebuilding their homes: (877) 743-7782.

“We will be here to support our customers and these communities throughout the rebuilding process,” said Laurie Giammona, PG&E’s chief customer officer. “We strongly support the commission’s approval to allow us to offer these no-cost solutions that will enable our customers to focus on their families and their futures.”