PG&E customers who speak limited English will be able to get their bills in Spanish or Chinese after regulators Thursday approved an agreement that marks the first time a California-regulated energy company has agreed to provide bills in foreign languages.
In fact, the utility may be among the first in the nation to provide such services.
State regulators approved those and other revisions, which PG&E customers should see in 2013.
The changes, which will cost about $19 million, also include large format bills for the vision-impaired and charts that will make it easier for customers to see how much they are paying for each "tier" of energy they use. Regulators hope that encourages customers to use less.
In general, the bill will use less technical language and more plain English, said PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian.
"In the future, we're going to organize the information so it's clearer to a broader group of customers," she said.
But the most novel revision might be the option for PG&E customers to request their bills in a language other than English. Several observers said they knew of no other place in the country where that is an option.
"Some people really have a hard time understanding their bill, and if you're barred because of a simple language barrier, it's even harder," said Stephanie Chen, senior legal counsel at the Greenlining Institute, a Berkeley organization that advocates for racial and economic justice.
"As far as I know, they are the first in the nation," Chen said.
A spokeswoman for the California Public Utilities Commission, which approved the changes Thursday, said the commission is unaware of anywhere else in the U.S. where utility bills can be received in foreign languages, as did a spokesman for a national organization of utility commissions.