Thousands eligible are not getting electricity discount

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet staff
Tuesday June 04, 2002

Thousands of low-income Berkeley residents eligible for a 40 percent reduction in their electricity bills may not be taking advantage of the opportunity. 

Pacific Gas & Electric released statistics Monday showing that only 52 percent of Alameda County customers eligible for state-mandated reductions through the California Alternate Rate for Energy, or CARE, are taking part in the program. 

“We need to do more,” said PG&E spokesman Jason Alderman, noting that by comparison 78 percent of eligible Santa Clara County customers are enrolled in CARE. 

Statewide, according to PG&E figures, 600,000 customers have signed up, but another 400,000 who are eligible are not enrolled. 

Alderman said PG&E has not compiled Berkeley-specific figures, but he noted that there are about 40,000 customers in the city and roughly 10 percent are eligible for CARE. If the overall statistics for Alameda County hold true in Berkeley, some 2,000 eligible customers may not be enrolled. 

PG&E representatives and members of local community groups fanned out to Bay Area company offices Monday to sign up customers, who typically show up in large numbers on the first Monday of a new month. 

Georgina Aguila of the Spanish Speaking Unity Council, an Oakland advocacy group, was on hand to help with enrollments. 

She said her group can help get the word out to members of the local Latino community who may be uninformed or scared to enroll. 

“They’re afraid to apply,” said Aguila, noting that once they do, they can realize substantial savings. 

Alderman said the Unity Council is one of several community groups PG&E taps to get out the word about CARE. He said summer is a good time to enroll since people often make heavier use of air conditioners and electricity bills rise. 

New income requirements, set at 175 percent of the federal poverty line, went into effect yesterday making thousands more eligible statewide. 

Last year for example, a family of four making $31,100 or less was eligible for CARE. As of Monday, that figure is set at $32,000 or less.