Helen Burt, senior vice president and chief customer officer for PG&E, said: “Whether passing along lower natural gas prices or offering advice and incentives for ways to use energy more efficiently, PG&E is helping residential and business customers realize the financial and environmental benefits.”

PG&E said that electric rates are set every year based on market forecasts. If electricity costs are lower than forecast, as happened this year because of falling natural gas prices, PG&E refunds the difference to customers. Normally, the refund would be spread out over the following year, but because of the tough economy, the company asked the CPUC in July to provide customers with a bill credit before the end of the year and was granted permission this month.

The size of the refund will depend on a customer’s usage and location. For example, a typical residential customer in Stockton using 850kWh per month will receive a credit of about $71. A typical residential customer in Stockton using 1,500kWh per month will receive a credit of about $239.

Residential customers with relatively low usage (defined as less than 131% of baseline usage for their area) and CARE customers, were protected from the rate impact of the 2009 energy-cost forecast and will not receive a credit.

In addition to the one-time bill credit, PG&E offers a menu of energy efficiency, information and customer assistance programs as part of the utility’s plan to help its customers manage their energy usage and power costs.