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Emergency declaration protects utility customers affected by fires

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People affected by the devastating wildfires around the state are entitled to an array of consumer protections concerning their electricity, water and telephone bills, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

The protections on bill payments, disconnections of service and reconnections automatically go into effect following the declaration of a state of emergency, the commission announced Wednesday.

Electricity and natural gas customers affected by the wildfire cannot have their service disconnected for nonpayment of bills.

Electricity and gas utilities must stop billing customers whose homes are not capable of receiving services and may not levy a disconnection charge. They must waive deposits for residents seeking to re-establish service and must expedite move-in and move-out requests.

In cases of water and sewer service customers, agencies must waive bills for victims who lost their homes and must waive reconnection fees.

Water agencies are also required to work cooperatively with customers to resolve unpaid bills and minimize disconnections for nonpayment.

Telephone companies must give refunds to customers who lost home phone service because of the fires.

The CPUC noted it is monitoring fire conditions throughout the state in coordination with Cal Fire and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

Cal Fire determines the sources of ignition of fires, while the CPUC staff investigates the compliance of electric facilities with applicable rules and regulations in fire areas, according to the commission.

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