Sempra Energy to work with customers facing shut-off - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Sempra Energy expands efforts to work with customers facing shut-off

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The parent company of San Diego Gas & Electric has reached a tentative agreement with a Berkeley-based consumer protection group to better communicate with customers who face having their utilities shut off, it was announced Thursday.

In the deal with The Greenlining Institute, Sempra Energy agreed to send notices to customers facing shut-off of their gas or electricity, warning them that they are at risk of disconnection and may be eligible for help or a payment plan. The notices will be written in several different languages.

Additionally, if the rate of shut-offs exceeds a certain threshold, additional requirements related to payment plans and limits on deposits required for customers seeking reinstatement of their service will be triggered, according to The Greenlining Institute.

The agreement requires approval by the California Public Utilities Commission.

According to The Greenlining Institute, the deal with Sempra should serve as a model for other utilities.

"We congratulate Sempra for agreeing to strong protections for its most vulnerable customers during hard times," said Samuel Kang, an attorney for The Greenlining Institute. "This settlement is both a landmark and an example for California's other major utilities to follow."

April Sharp, a spokeswoman for Sempra, said the utility is committed to providing "proactive outreach" to its customers to help them during the tough economic times.

She said the utility has the lowest shut-off rates in the state.

Soaring disconnection rates last winter prompted a coalition of consumer groups to push the CPUC to adopt new protections for utility customers, which it did in July.

According to The Greenlining Institute, the deal Sempra agreed to goes above and beyond what is required by the CPUC.

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