SAN FRANCISCO – State power regulators are poised to protect consumers from a problem they don’t yet confront — phone companies trying to shut down their service because they haven’t paid for all the sodas, pizzas, and lattes they used their cell phones to buy.
Cellular service providers in other countries — notably Japan — have rigged their phones to bill some goods, and U.S. companies are eager to catch up.
But once they get around to offering such services, cellular providers in California won’t be able to disconnect subscribers whose fast-food gluttony lands them with fat bills they can’t pay. Not if the state Public Utilities Commission has its way.
The PUC is scheduled to pass that “first-in-the-nation” consumer protection at its Thursday meeting.
What the PUC will not be addressing is a plan to save much-needed electricity by slightly reducing the juice to common household appliances. That plan was shelved by a misunderstanding between the PUC and Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
Lynch said the PUC was set to approve the conservation measure at Thursday’s meeting, but will postpone action due to PG&E’s “last-minute concerns” that make the plan less attractive than advertised.
Under the proposal, the state’s three largest utilities would reduce the voltage from 120 volts to about 117 volts. While that would have little effect on individual lights and appliances, bundled together the savings would reach hundreds of megawatts — in a pinch, enough to avert rolling blackouts.
PG&E officials said they think the plan is a good one and were baffled why the PUC postponed debating it.
PG&E promised hundreds of megawatts in savings within a month, but in papers submitted late Tuesday reduced those expectations to 40 megawatts over a three-month span, said Robert Kinosian, energy adviser to PUC President Loretta Lynch.
“Every sort of thing in implementing this was more problematic than before,” Kinosian told reporters Wednesday. “I thought that everybody was working on the same page, until yesterday.”
Lynch blamed PG&E for taking the shine off what appeared to be a sparkling way to reduce electricity demand with little downside.
But Lynch misunderstood PG&E’s comments, according to Les Guliasi, the utility’s director of regulatory relations. He said PG&E would happily reduce voltage to save the 40 megawatts — enough to power about 30,000 homes.
“I think she should read over the comments,” Guliasi said. “We’ve been very up front and forthcoming in these discussions.”