The California Public Utilities Commission voted on May 23 to ban all anti-lockout laws in the state, which would effectively put an end to a California law that has forced businesses to pay millions of dollars in fines to prevent them from shutting down lines or shutting off service. At the same time, the commission voted to ban all non-essential utilities from shutoff.
The law, which was passed in the wake of the 2009 San Francisco earthquake, allows local governments to enact anti-lockout laws to protect the health and safety of residents. In that same vote, the commission also voted to ban non-essential utility shutoffs. The issue is whether the state should be encouraging local governments to adopt such laws. In the end, the California legislature voted by a margin of 25 to 12, and the governor signed the law into law.
In California, the governor has the ability to sign a law into law without a vote of both houses. The point is that this is a rule that is not always followed in practice, and I expect that the anti-lockout law will probably get repealed in the near future.
What is a utility shutoff? It is when a utility’s power is turned off because of a fault or other problem. The problem is that for a number of utilities, the shut-off can be extremely disruptive to the utility’s operations. As a result, the government in San Francisco passed legislation that requires utilities to shut off power to non-essential customers.
Utilities are allowed to shut off customers so that their systems and equipment can be maintained and used safely. In the past, when a utility shut off a customer’s service, they would have to pay all of the other customers the shut-off caused to repair the shut-off. For example, a utility that owns a gas line and needs to be able to stop a leak during a natural disaster, may pay for the gas line shut-off but pay the other customers for the shut-off.
Although, there are several different ways that utilities can shut off their customers, this is the only one that states that it’s okay to shut off a customer’s power (others allow customers to sue the utility for the cost of the shut-off). The utility may be able to charge the other ratepayers for the shut-off, but that’s not the end of it.
California’s anti-gridlock law was intended to stop people like me from buying gas from the utility because I’ve read about a gas leak and they shut off my gas line immediately for free. Now you can sue the utility if you believe you were shut off for less than 24 hours.
The law is pretty simple. In order to get your charge back, you have to prove that you were shut off, and for 24 hours, isnt there some other way to get the money that you would have gotten anyway. It doesnt mean that gas companies can just stop serving your customers if they feel like it.
The idea of a gas company being legally required to stop service to customers is a good one. But the law as written is ambiguous. If you want to sue them for a refund, you have to prove that you were shut off, and for 24 hours, there is nothing else that can be done.
It’s unclear if anyone has sued anyone for a refund (or even if there’s a way to get one), but the idea that there is a legal reason for the law isn’t actually new. The California legislature passed the law in 1999. It was to enforce a state law that required utilities to provide all of their customers with electricity for at least 24 hours after a “temporary” outage.