Press "One" For Customer Service

Katy Grimes: When calling PG&E customer service to complain about something, the recording says, “press one for account payment or billing.”

“Press two to turn gas on or off, or for an appointment.”

“Press three for information on an outage or for an appointment.”

It’s not until the fourth option that callers can report “a hazardous situation.”

PG&E service guarantees are listed on the PG&E website. “Gas and electricity are essential to keep your life running smoothly, safely and efficiently. When your service is interrupted or in need of repair, you expect a reasonable and timely response,” reads the customer service assurance.

But according to several of the San Bruno residents interviewed immediately after the explosion, PG&E was not particularly responsive to recent complaints of gas odors in the neighborhood.

Just this morning, I heard two different radio reports insinuating that PG&E did not receive “formal” complaints of the gas odor in the neighborhood.

One day after the neighborhood explosion, The Bay Citizen reported. “Shane Musunu and his mother, Gayle Musunu, live at the corner of Glenview and Claremont streets where the explosion occurred. Both say that PG&E workers were at that site for three or four days earlier this week. Residents complained to the work crew about smelling gas, the Musunus said, and they were told to close their garage doors to avoid smelling the gas odor.”

PG&E spends millions every year on lobbying. According to opensecrets.org, “Since 2000, PG&E Corp., the parent company of PG&E Co., has spent more than $112 million on federally reportable lobbying efforts, according to the Center’s analysis. Its roster of lobbyists includes an elite force of ex-government officials, and at least one of the lobbyists the company has deployed this year is a former member of Congress, Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Ca.).”

PG&E recently spent more than $44 million to pass Proposition 16, which was placed on the ballot by by the giant utility company to make it increasingly difficult for local municipalities and governments to form their own utility districts —

This is a 600 percent increase in the total PG&E spent during all of 2009, reports the opensecrets website, which investigates money in politics. Obviously, there is a great deal at stake in the energy business in California, worth at least $44 million to one company.

Since the San Bruno explosion last week, BusinessWeek magazine reports that PG&E has set up a $100 million fund for victims of the blast, to cover what insurance does not. And PG&E says residents will not be asked to waive legal claims to get the money – $15,000, $25, 000 or $50,000 depending on the amount of the damage done. The money will be distributed through the American Red Cross and the United Way of the Bay Area.

But there is no special phone number for San Bruno explosion victims to call other than the main customer service line, and the PG&E website just refers anyone with questions about the San Bruno situation to call the regular phone number, or links to a web page that touts the response accomplishments, introduces the $100 million fund, and offers the same phone customer service phone number.

PG&E reports that it has employees going door to door in the San Bruno neighborhood, along with Fire Department employees, to make sure that power gets restored.

And now State Senators Alex Padilla and Mark Leno have announced plans to hold hearings into the explosion. The side show will begin next week.

A look into the Fortune 500 list, PG&E is ranked 173, up from 176 in 2009. PG&E has 5.1 million electric customers, 4.3 million gas customers, $42 billion in assets as of December 2009, and $13.9 billion in revenue.

The $100 million explosion fund, and tiny San Bruno neighborhood, must seem like a blip on radar of the company. Maybe a few million more could be spent on a sincere customer service.

The customer service phone number is 800-753-5000 “Thank you for calling Pacific Gas &Electric.

SEPT. 14, 2010

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