Sometimes PG&E Surprises Me

Ranting about PG&E is sometimes a beloved pastime around these parts, since the power goes out a lot, although this usually is not PG&E’s fault. Some of it undoubtedly is; they don’t have the greatest infrastructure, they are trying to deal with an increasing load on the grid without causing people to lose power, and sometimes it seems like costs spiral upwards while service spirals downwards. But PG&E isn’t responsible for the high load on our neighborhood transformer which causes it to blow on a regular basis and they are also not responsible for things like constant storms which will inevitably cut power even if PG&E was the most perfect utility ever. Judging from the things I heard from people on the East Coast during the snowstorms, PG&E is also pretty darn fast when it comes to restoring power after storm-related outages.

By and large, my position on PG&E is pretty neutral. They generate power, they sell it to me, I use it, sometimes the power goes away and they turn it back on as soon as they can because they want to be able to sell me more of it. They do have a service monopoly, effectively, so it’s not like I could go to another power company[1. To my knowledge it’s only PG&E that provides power here, and even if another company did, presumably they would be doing it on PG&E’s network, right?].

Recently, though, PG&E had grounds to surprise me. It started when the power went out in half my house (the half of the house that did not lose power when the same thing happened in 2007). I duly called the landlord to express indignation and discontent, and the electrician showed up a few days later to have a gander at things.

This involved all sorts of peculiar noises including pops and sparking things and eventually the electrician emerged to tell me that PG&E needed to check the line and he suspected a “defugalty,” whatever in the hell that is, and then he said some things about legs and buses and my eye glazed over and I lost track of the conversation. I did in fact work on theatrical lighting at one point in my life, so I am not completely ignorant when it comes to matters of the electricity, but in this particular case I was lost.

He said I should call PG&E in the morning, but I am not a patient person, so despite the fact that it was eight in the evening on a Friday, I called the service line on the off chance that someone was around. I thought that someone probably would be and I could schedule an appointment for the next day so that everything would be all squared away and I wouldn’t have to think about it.

The first thing PG&E did which surprised me is that instead of leaving me on hold, the phone system told me that everyone was busy and that if I liked I could leave my phone number and it would call me back. This has to be the most brilliant thing ever, and I am astounded that other companies do not think of it. I hate phones and I hate waiting on the phone and I hate horrible hold music, and PG&E spared me all of those things.

This doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to implement, given my knowledge of phone systems. My understanding is that the phone people hit a button when they are ready for a new customer; that button could just as easily dial someone as it could transfer someone who is waiting on hold. And when PG&E did call me, I did sit on hold for a teeny bit while I was connected, but this was vastly preferable to sitting on hold for half an hour waiting for someone to answer.

So! Someone was actually there, at PG&E, and was very nice and helpful. (Although when I told him my cross streets, he said “oh, that neighborhood,” so apparently we are infamous with PG&E.) I blathered my closest approximation of what the electrician had said to me, repeating “defugalty” several times because it seemed to be important, and he in turn seemed to understand what I was trying to say, or at least played along kindly.

I expected him to say that a crew would come out the next day to check the line, if I was lucky, but more probably Monday. But no, he dispatched someone that very instant. I guess, thinking back on it, PG&E has a vested interest in not allowing unsafe situations to persist, and there’s no way to know if something is unsafe until a crew has been sent out to check it. But it was still sort of startling and supercool to be told that someone would come out right away, as indeed happened; a lovely man named Jeremy showed up with a very large truck and banged about in the service panel for a bit before emerging to inform me that I needed a new service panel.

I cannot say that this news surprised me in the least, because my service panel was rather derelict, and arrangements were made to replace it (this part was not nearly as enjoyable, what with the whole being without power for a day situation).

I think of PG&E as this entity which exists solely to take money from me in exchange for intermittent electric service, but I’ve got to hand it to their customer service; they really are pretty on top of things and they are very helpful and responsive. There are safety concerns involved, of course, but it’s not like PG&E is under any particular obligation to be nice to me to retain customer loyalty, since I can’t logistically go anywhere else. I am so accustomed at this point to being abused by businesses which apparently are not aware that I can take my business elsewhere that it was rather refreshing to be treated like a valued customer who actually mattered by a company which effectively holds me captive.