By David Kligman
SAN FRANCISCO — At a community fair in North America’s oldest Chinatown, PG&E today (Sept. 12) unveiled a new monthly energy statement for Chinese-speaking customers in their native language.
The new statement, which officially debuted last week, also features a larger type size, at-a-glance billing numbers and new information that will help customers better understand and manage their energy usage. Energy statements also will be available in Spanish.
Lucy Lee was one of the many seniors who attended the event and signed up to receive her energy bill in Chinese. She immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong in 1970. Her husband explained her bills to her and since he died her daughter has helped her.
“Now I can read the bill for myself,” said Lee, who spoke to Currents through an interpreter. “I can finally help myself. I’m more independent.”
The bilingual option is part of PG&E’s complete redesign of its energy statement. Basic information such as the total amount due, due date, account number and PG&E’s contact information is easier to find. Graphs and charts show daily energy usage and trends.
Those details were among the suggestions of some 1,200 customers who participated in focus groups and surveys.
Sam Kang of the Greenlining Institute, a Berkeley-based nonprofit that works to get corporate America to invest in underserved communities, praised PG&E for being the first California utility to offer a bill in Chinese and possibly the first in the nation. He recalled as a Korean immigrant having to translate bills for his parents who didn’t speak English.
“At that time we could have really used a company like PG&E that cared enough to communicate with my parents and myself,” he said. “And now this problem has a solution. It has become a reality thanks to PG&E.”
PG&E hosted the event at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, which has been part of the Chinatown community since 1882. Bilingual PG&E volunteers used laptops to sign up customers for the Chinese bill. Also meeting with customers were representatives of the utility’s CARE program, which provides monthly energy bill discounts for income-qualified families.
The location was fitting given the utility’s more than 100 years of service and engagement with California’s Chinese-American communities. PG&E opened its first payment office in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1905.
According to U.S. Census data, one in five Californians speak English less than well. PG&E’s Fong Wan, senior vice president of energy procurement, said offering multi-language energy statements will help more customers take charge of their energy use and hopefully save money.
Wan, the highest ranking Chinese-American officer at PG&E, called the Chinese energy statement an important milestone for the company. And he thanked the residents, most of them seniors, who came to the event to learn about the new bill.
“Everything we do we do with you in mind because your energy is what inspires us,” said Wan, senior vice president of energy procurement.
PG&E’s new energy statements are part of the company’s longstanding commitment to reach its diverse customers in the communities where they work and live. PG&E’s efforts include:
- A customer service hotline that provides support in 190 languages through over-the-phone interpretation services
- A Chinese website (www.pge.com/chinese) and a Spanish website (www.pge.com/espanol) for non-English speaking customers to access information on energy saving programs, environmental stewardship and financial assistance
- A weekly Twitter post in Chinese to help customers learn how to sign up for different energy efficiency programs, save energy and lower their energy bills
- A weekly Facebook message in Spanish every Monday
Full-service residential electric or gas customers can request their statements in Chinese by visiting www.pge.com/chinesebill or by contacting PG&E’s Chinese service line at (800) 893-9555. Statements also are available in Spanish, in Braille and in large print.
George Chang, who signed up for the new Chinese statement, said he’s looking forward to finally being able to read his own bill.
“I want to look at how much I spend and how much I need to pay so I can get a clearer picture,” he said.
An event is planned for Sept. 27 in Fresno to celebrate the new Spanish energy statement.
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.