A pair of consumer groups would like Southern California Edison to refund customers $124 million for a mismanaged lightbulb program. An investigation found that SCE lost track of over one million lightbulbs paid for by customers over a three-year period.
The missing bulbs were part of the Upstream Lighting Program. This was an initiative that encouraged SCE and other utilities to use funds from customer utility bills to encourage manufacturers to stock stores with discounted energy-efficient bulbs.
Mike Campbell, a program manager for the Public Advocates Office who helped oversee the investigation, said the problems started in 2017 when SCE reduced its oversight of the program at the same time the focus was shifted from stocking big box stores to smaller independent stores in order to reach customers who normally wouldn’t buy the bulbs.
“So it’s very difficult to say how many lightbulbs were delivered, how many consumers actually got [them], [and] if the program rules the commission set were followed,” said Campbell.
The investigation also found that San Diego Gas and Electric’s lightbulb program had the same problems. In December, they reached a proposed settlement agreement with the Public Advocates Office, an independent arm of the California Public Utilities Commission, and the San Francisco based consumer group TURN, for a $51.6 million refund.
These same consumer groups would like SCE to follow suit. They are calling for a $140 million fine and a $124 million refund which would offset future customer bills.
SCE spokesperson Ron Gales provided Empire-KVCR with the following statement:
“Southern California Edison is reviewing the comments filed by the California Public Utilities Commision filed on January 20 by The Utility Reform Network and the California Public Advocates Office which SCE believes recommend excessive penalties and refunds not commensurate with the issues raised. SCE will file its own reply on February 19. SCE has previously acknowledged certain shortcomings in the management of a part of its Upstream Lighting Program when it submitted results of a third party investigation on November 30, 2020. SCE will continue to work cooperatively with the Commission and interveeners to arrive at an appropriate solution"
Campbell of the Public Advocates Office stands by the proposed settlement sum.
“Is the customer going to open their bill and go, ‘Oh my goodness. Look at this savings?'" said Campbell. "Probably not, but it is totally reasonable and appropriate and is the kind of thing the utility, the executives, and the shareholders will notice. And that’s the real importance of this, to have meaningful consequences for just miserable management of a program and really not taking due care with rate payer’s money.”