State regulators fine Puget Sound Energy $430,000

December 18, 2012

By Staff

State regulators fined Puget Sound Energy $430,000 for improperly charging residential disconnect-visit fees to electricity and natural gas customers, officials announced Nov. 30.

The state Utilities and Transportation Commission approved a multiparty settlement agreement stemming from 1,639 violations of state consumer protection rules.

In addition to the penalty, Bellevue-based PSE refunded to customers more than 9,000 disconnect-visit fees charged in error dating back to December 2009. The utility provider also agreed to change procedures for handling such visits.

The company is not allowed to pass any penalty costs to customers through rates. Instead, penalty money goes into the public service revolving fund; legislators make disbursements from the account.

The violations came to light after regulators investigated PSE’s records for March to May 2011.

Commission staffers found PSE improperly charged a $13 disconnect-visit fee to customers. A PSE employee can only charge the fee if he or she is dispatched to the residence to disconnect electric or natural gas service, and once there, collect a payment to stop the disconnection.

The investigation revealed PSE charged the fee when employees left a 24-hour termination notice or attempted to collect a payment. Investigators found PSE made house calls solely for the purpose of attempting to collect a payment on delinquent amounts owed by the customer.

The company agreed to discontinue such collection visits.

The fine is the latest penalty for the largest utility provider in Western Washington. Earlier in November, state regulators fined PSE $250,000 for violating a 2010 order to require the utility provider to review and correct customer accounts.

PSE serves more than 1 million electric customers and about 785,000 natural gas customers in Western Washington, including Issaquah.

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