San Diego Gas & Electric pays $57M over botched bulb program

top of lightbulb
Image by Emilian Robert Vicol from Pixabay

SAN DIEGO (AP) — San Diego Gas & Electric will refund $51.6 million to ratepayers and pay a $5.5 million fine over a botched program to encourage people to buy energy-efficient lightbulbs.

The California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday approved an agreement that SDG&E reached nearly a year ago with two consumer organizations, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

At issue were programs that SDG&E and Southern California Edison ran beginning in 2017 to get people to buy costlier energy-efficient bulbs by providing incentives to manufacturers and stores to ship and stock them.

An investigative report commissioned by the PUC concluded in 2019 that 15 million of the subsidized bulbs had gone missing at a cost to utility ratepayers of about $55 million, and that the total number of bulbs shipped in 2017 under the programs was three times the number of bulbs sold in the state.

Investigators hired by SDG&E last year found that bulbs were overstocked or never sold and that at least one manufacturer falsified shipping invoices for bulbs that were dumped or never delivered.

SDG&E discontinued the program last year.

The Public Utilities Commission hasn’t yet issued a decision regarding Southern California Edison’s program.

The SDG&E settlement calls for it to use shareholder money to reimburse ratepayers for money spent on the program from 2017 to 2019 along with returning incentive money the utility received from the state. The utility also was fined for filing a false statement with the Public Utilities Commission.

“SDG&E took ownership of what went wrong,” spokeswoman Helen Gao said in an email to the Union-Tribune. “The lessons learned from the program failure have resulted in meaningful changes, including new procedures and training, to strengthen accountability and prevent this from ever happening again.”

Some employees had left the company and others were disciplined, according to the agreement.

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