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PG&E substation in Petaluma
photo credit: Marc Albert/KRCB
Receive a shockingly high bill from Pacific Gas and Electric this month? You’re not alone. While PG&E says it's not to blame and the governor demands an investigation, the company says it can help those struggling to pay. 
Unless you're completely off grid, you've probably heard that incoming utility bills are bringing some unhappy surprises.
"People are seeing a 47 percent increase in their energy bills from November to March compared to last winter."
That's Megan McFarland, a PG&E spokeswoman.
One Petaluma family of four said their most recent bill totaled $650. Earlier this week, state regulators held a hearing about surging natural gas prices and their impact on electricity rates. Many power plants burn natural gas to generate electricity. The company said it's aware of the hardship and is encouraging customers to find out about available discount programs.
"One way customers can manage winter bills, is they can get a personalized rate plan comparison. That helps them find the best rate for their personal energy usage. They can enroll in budget billing, this spreads out the bills across the year so you're not getting these peaks and valleys, it's more consistent. And you can also sign up for bill forecast alert, and that way you'll get a text or some kind of correspondence if your bill's going to spike, so that you can kind of make preparations."
McFarland reiterated that PG&E doesn't set natural gas prices. And attributes recent price hikes to higher demand, and cooler weather locally.
Those in arrears, or unable to afford an upcoming bill may set up a payment plan.
Other programs offer discounted energy rates. Those on the lower end of the income scale may qualify for CARE, a state program offering a twenty percent reduction in gas and electricity rates.
Lower income households with three or more people may qualify for FERA, which provides an eighteen percent discount on electricity rates. Finally, those using certain medical devices, including CPAP machines for apnea, can receive discounted rates through the "medical baseline" program.
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