State regulators have fined Puget Sound Energy (PSE) $250,000 for violating a 2010 order that required the utility to review and correct specific customer accounts.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) has approved a multi-party settlement of a complaint that alleged 515 violations of the 2010 order. The parties include: commission staff, PSE, the Public Counsel Section of the Attorney General’s Office, and The Energy Project, a nonprofit group that represents low-income people.
The UTC originally penalized the company $104,300 in October 2010 for improperly handling accounts of customers, including many low-income customers, disconnected for nonpayment. In addition to that penalty, the company was ordered to make corrections to 26 specific customer accounts identified by UTC staff.
In the 2010 order, the UTC also penalized the company for improperly applying energy assistance pledge funds made to low-income customers’ accounts. Energy assistance pledges are intended to help consumers keep the lights and heat on during the winter months. Commission staff cited PSE for improperly applying those funds to a prior balance, which led to additional threats of disconnection for customers.
PSE has now provided refunds and credits to the mishandled customer accounts, and changed its billing practices to ensure that customer payments are applied correctly. The company also agreed to make a $75,000 contribution to its low-income assistance program. The utility is not allowed to pass the penalty costs to customers through rates.
Bellevue-based PSE serves more than 1 million electric customers and about 785,000 natural gas customers, primarily in the Puget Sound region of Western Washington.
The UTC is the three-member state agency in charge of regulating the private, investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities in Washington.