MERCED -- Merced Irrigation District customers may have to pay Pacific Gas & Electric although they don't use its services. And while state Sen. Jeff Denham said he can't give advice to the customers, he added, "If I received a bill, I personally wouldn't pay it!"
The statement was met with cheers by more than 100 Merced County residents at the Merced Community Senior Center on Tuesday. The district hosted a public meeting to discuss the PG&E charges with residents and address their concerns.
So many had concerns that residents spilled out of the senior center conference room into a line out on sidewalk.
"I'm madder than hell," said Billie Leigh, of Merced. "If we all say we're not going to pay, what are they going to do to us?"
That question was up for debate throughout the evening.
PG&E says costs accrued from the 2001 energy crisis, deregulation of California's power industry and the company's subsequent financial woes. The California Public Utilities Commission, the state agency that regulates power companies, told the company to collect the bills -- about $9 a month over the next three years.
Two kinds of district customers will have to pay, said Sean Gallagher, energy division director of the PUC. One type is referred to as transferred municipal departing load: Those who were at a location previously serviced by PG&E but now served by the district. The other, new municipal departing load, has never received services from PG&E. They are customers in a new housing development that in 2001 was part of PG&E territory.
District General Manager Garith Krause said it has opposed the charges, spending about $2 million in the effort. It has twice even tried to take the issue to the state Supreme Court, which denied the case both times.