Q: Has PG&E ever explained why it did not alert the people of Bakersfield last summer about their pending high summer utility bills? Or have they ever apologized for not alerting us? As a widow on a fixed income, I was absolutely clobbered by last summer's PG&E bills. If I had received some warning, my bill for June, July and August could have been lower than $2,400. I'm sure the same thing is true for a lot of us. If PG&E warned us, I missed it.

-- Anne Golden

A: PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles responded:

We have definitely learned some important lessons from our customers, as we acknowledged in an apology to them last fall. In response, we have taken significant steps to improve how we communicate with customers about what they can expect with their bills this summer and early next year. In these tough economic times, we know how important it is to be fully informed of your expenses so you can keep monthly costs to a minimum.

We have also heard from many customers in Bakersfield that electricity rates for customers who use the most energy are just too high. This is one of the reasons why, starting in February, PG&E filed a number of proposals with the California Public Utilities Commission asking for rate relief. First, PG&E requested an overall rate reduction to take effect June 1. Second, we asked the commission to change the tiered residential rate structure in a way that reduces the costs for our highest-use residential customers. We hope this eliminates some of the "sticker shock" that can occur when a customer's usage crosses into the top-rate tier, especially during peak summer months. If approved, this action would reduce the top energy rates by 20 cents per kilowatt hour.

We offer a number of programs to help customers manage their energy costs, including the California Alternate Rates for Energy program, which can often help people on fixed incomes pay lower amounts for electricity. We also strongly encourage Bakersfield customers to sign up for our monthly Balanced Payment Plan, which eliminates the monthly peaks and valleys of a year's worth of bills, and provides a steady average payment for a customer each month. Also, starting this summer, customers will be able to receive rate alerts, where they sign up to receive a text message, automated phone call or an e-mail when they bump up into the next rate tier at any given time during the month.

Editor's note: We asked Boyles how PG&E apologized. He said: "There were several apologies in media interviews. I'm not as sure if we apologized in one of the op-eds, but that is also possible."

Q: Why does the Bakersfield recycling program only take No. 1 and No. 2 plastics? Is this a lack of funding? Or is this another case of Bakersfield lacking in the environmental well-being category?

This may just be me, but it seems like Bakersfield is full of trash these days. Do our people care about what our town looks like?

-- Heath Emerson

A: Only No. 1 and No. 2 plastics are marketable, said Sal Moretti, superintendent of the Bakersfield waste management division. He said the city doesn't want to collect plastics it can't sell, and then just throw them away.

Q: What is going on on the northwest corner of South H Street and Berkshire Road?

-- Gus Castro

A: Rick Millwee, Bakersfield construction superintendent, answered:

The road widening work being done in this area is in conjunction with the planned future construction of the Kaiser Permanente building on South H Street at Berkshire Road. Other road work being done as part of this project will be the widening of Berkshire Road between South H Street and Colony Street and construction of the remainder of Colony Street between Berkshire Road and Panama Lane.

Ask The Californian appears on Mondays and Thursdays. Submit questions to asktbc@bakersfield.com or to The Bakersfield Californian, c/o Christine Bedell, P.O. Bin 440, Bakersfield, CA 93302.

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