KorieXan Timcke, the secretary who handles expenses at the Santee-Lakeside Elks Lodge, received a shock when she came into work one day in August.
The San Diego Gas & Electric bill for the lodge had reached $3,000.
“They didn’t bill us for three months,” said Timcke, who didn’t notice anything was wrong.
It turns out the Elks Lodge is among roughly 2 percent of SDG&E customers — about 28,000 with electrical meters — who have not received electricity bills in recent months.
That’s because the investor-owned utility says it has delayed sending out some statements until it could verify the bills were accurate.
“There wasn’t just one issue that we could point to as the reason,” said SDG&E communications manager Amber Albrecht. “We’ve had a number of complex changes at SDG&E — rate changes, customer options, and the most important thing to us is that all of our bills go out and they’re accurate.”
Albrecht said it has been “a matter of months” since the delays started. SDG&E informed the California Public Utilities Commission of the issue in August.
The utility has assigned “nearly two dozen additional staff members” to tackle the problem but doesn’t foresee normal operations returning until the end of the year.
The billing delays have affected residential as well as business customers.
Albrecht said customers who have received their bills on time do not have to worry about the amounts being inaccurate.
But for those who have not received a bill within the current cycle, Albrecht said, “it was because we needed to do more to validate that bill before it could go out.”
Albrecht said customers who have accounts on the SDG&E website should have received emails notifying them if their bill was delayed. Late last week, SDG&E sent out letters to affected customers who do not have online accounts.
If the problem was noticed months ago, why didn’t the letters go out sooner, especially since summertime electricity rates are high?
“I think that’s a really fair question,” Albrecht said, “and what we’ve been really focused on right now is resolving the delayed billing issue and making sure when they do go out, they’re timely and accurate.”
Mindy Spatt, communications director at The Utility Reform Network, a consumer group based in San Francisco, said utilities have a responsibility to inform customers promptly of billing delays.
“The customers shouldn’t have to seek out the utility to find out what’s going on,” Spatt said.
In the case of the Santee-Lakeside Elks Lodge, Timcke said the lodge received an SDG&E notice and worked out a payment arrangement of $1,000 per month for the next three months with no interest rate charged.
But Timcke said she had an unpleasant experience with the SDG&E representative.
“They were rude, like I had defaulted on my bill and that was not the case,” Timcke said.
Albrecht said customers who have not received bills in recent months can go to the SDG&E website and log on to the “My Account” tab to monitor their energy usage and billing history if they want to estimate what their bill might be.
Customers can send in payments without a bill if they prefer avoiding paying a larger bill later.
“What customers need to know is not that they can just send SDG&E money but they’re entitled to an accurate bill on a timely basis,” Spatt said.
Spatt said that according to California regulation, utility customers cannot be “back-billed” beyond three months in cases of utility error.
Timcke said the experience has been “real inconvenient.”
“We’re a business,” she said. “If this was a personal account, I don’t know what I’d do.”