PG&E reacted fast to ex-PUC chief's complaint about size of his bill

'Obviously something is wrong,' ex-PUC President Michael Peevey complained to PG&E about his electricity bill

When the state's former top electricity regulator complained about a new Pacific Gas & Electric Co. "smart meter" at his vacation home, company executives reacted swiftly.

A handful of emails — part of more than 65,000 released two weeks ago by PG&E and the Public Utilities Commission — revealed that then-PUC President Michael Peevey had a beef about the size of his monthly bill in 2011: It had more than doubled after a wireless meter was installed.

"Obviously something is wrong," Peevey wrote to his main PG&E liaison, then-Vice President Brian Cherry. "I would like an explanation."

The release of these emails came as state and federal law enforcement officials have stepped up their investigations into the relationship between the utility and the PUC. Peevey's and Cherry's homes were searched recently by investigators. Neither has been available for comment.

After the smart meter complaint, Peevey got fast, first-rate customer service. PG&E ordered a staffer "to have someone address this ASAP," Cherry reported. Company experts quickly performed a "deep dive investigation" into electricity consumption at Peevey's 3,118-square-foot home at Sea Ranch on the North Coast.

After six days, Cherry reported that the bill was found to be "within the range of previous usage."

Peevey relented, saying he'd "accept, for now at least, the new meter is registering the right amount of usage." The jump in his bill, he speculated, could have been caused by "some new appliances, heated bathroom floor, heated towel rack, hot tub usage."

More oversight

The ongoing investigation of the San Francisco-based PUC is being watched carefully in Sacramento.

Lawmakers need to boost vigilance over the troubled PUC, says Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), the new chairman of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee.

"At the onset, I think it's important for us to hold oversight hearings," especially to gauge what progress has been made boosting the commission's safety programs, the two-term lawmaker said. The PUC's new president, Michael Picker, who succeeded Peevey last month, is moving fast to create a safety program with strong enforcement.

Rendon, however, said he wanted to make sure that any legislative probe does not interfere with ongoing law enforcement investigations.

Safety and the upgrading of PG&E's extensive natural gas distribution system will also be a focus of the state Senate's Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee, added Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo).

Hill, an outspoken critic of the Peevey regime, is chairman of the panel's Subcommittee on Infrastructure Safety. He also represents the San Francisco Bay Area city of San Bruno, where eight people died in 2010 in a PG&E pipeline explosion.

"We have to make sure that the PUC is living up to its mission of providing a safe, reliable utility at a reasonable rate," Hill said. "It had lost sight of that mission."

Twitter: @MarcLifsher

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