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State Senate bill seeks to curb spikes in winter heating costs

Proposed legislation would also require utility companies to provide cost estimate for following month's statement

Utility customers may see fewer spikes in winter heating costs if a bill introduced by state Sen. Jerry Hill passes the Legislature, according to Hill's office.

Hill, D-San Mateo, on Thursday introduced Senate Bill 711, which would ensure that 70 percent of the bill for the average customer is covered by the lowest-priced rate level for all winter months.

The legislation would also require utility companies to estimate the cost of the next month's bill and print that on the current month's statement. The estimate would be required to be printed on customers' bills year-round.

Hill said the bill is a solution that could relieve some of the pressure on consumers and said he wants to make it easier for residents to manage their heating costs.

Spikes in consumers' bills this winter prompted complaints to the California Public Utilities Commission as well as the senator's office.

Hill's staff members have written two reports on the issue. The latest was released Thursday and both are available on the senator's website.

The previous report, released in March, recommended that PG&E and the CPUC find ways to lower customers' costs, make the way bills are calculated more transparent and help consumers manage their costs.

On March 1, PG&E changed the utility's billing structure, which was expected to lower some customers' bills and raise others.

"Approved rate changes fund gas safety and electric reliability work that is important for our infrastructure," PG&E spokeswoman Brandi Merlo said.

The utility is reviewing Senate Bill 711. Merlo said PG&E has tools to help consumers manage their energy use.

An online tool allows customers to track usage day-by-day and even hour-by-hour.

Another online tool allows customers to get an alert by phone or text when a forecast for their energy use reaches a level set by the customer.

Hill said it's likely a committee will consider his bill in the next three weeks.

"I feel very positive it will move out of there," he said.

— Bay City News Service

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