Thousands may be eligible for discounted power

With warmer weather approaching — and electrical bills expected to rise — officials want to get the word out that thousands of families from the Bay Area and throughout Northern and Central  California could be eligible for reduced monthly power bills.

The California Public Utility Commission, the agency that regulates utility companies, has established new guidelines for California Alternate Rates for Energy, or CARE, a program that provides discounts on electrical and gas service for low-income families.

With the new guidelines, Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. officials estimate more than 100,000 households across Northern and Central California could be eligible for the 20 percent discount, but are not enrolled yet.

On average, the CARE program saves income-qualified households $50 per month on gas and electric bills, said PG&E.

According to CPUC, individuals or families may also be eligible for CARE if they’re enrolled in Medicaid/Medi-Cal, food stamps or other similar public assistance programs.

PG&E is urging its customers to contact the utility to see if they’re eligible for the discount. Additionally, CARE customers can also take advantage of the Energy Savings Assistance Program, or ESA.

ESA provides free solutions for home improvements, including compact fluorescent lights, caulking, shower heads and other tips to help income-qualified households manage energy use and save money.

Kate Comfort Harr, executive director of San Mateo-based HIP Housing, said these programs are crucial for households that need the extra assistance:

“The challenges for low income families are greater than ever, so it is increasingly important that they have timely access to money-saving initiatives such as the CARE or ESA program.”

Since the program began in 1989, PG&E said customers enrolled in CARE have saved more than $5.2 billion on energy bills.  The income limits are reviewed every year by the CPUC and subject to adjustment, based on the inflation rate.

The program is funded by rate surcharges paid by all other utility customers.