In 1997, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. installed nine new street lamps to illuminate Lockeford's business district as part of a project to move overhead power lines underground.
For some reason, PG&E never billed anyone for the electricity the utility provided, and no one knows why.
Only recently did officials from the utility discover that it's been giving Lockeford free power for all these 13 years.
Now they want to do something about it. PG&E wants to get paid from now on. The question is who will pay the bill.
San Joaquin County officials are working with the Lockeford community to seek an agreement on who will pay the electrical bill. The lights in question include one west of Cotton Street and extend to the eastern end of town near the Bluffs subdivision entrance.
The issue came up at last week's Lockeford Municipal Advisory Council meeting, when county Public Works representatives informed the council about the problem.
Lockeford's business district has 69 street lamps that are in a special lighting district administered by the county. But nine of them are not, and PG&E has threatened to shut off power to the unpaid lights on Sept. 15.
However, PG&E spokeswoman Nicole Liebelt says disconnection would be a last resort if the issue isn't resolved.
The Clements-Lockeford Chamber of Commerce has requested an extension of the Sept. 15 deadline while payment options are explored.
It would cost an estimated $1,400 to keep the power on for the nine street lamps, which would amount to a $2.50 annual electrical rate increase, according to Steve Winkler, the county's deputy public works director. In the case of businesses, it would be $2.50 per "residential equivalent."
Chamber President and CEO Cynthia Haynes said the chamber plans to conduct a door-to-door survey to get an idea of whether residents and business owners would be willing to pay that $2.50 per year.
Meanwhile, the chamber will ask that the PG&E account be placed in the county's name until next February while the community survey is being conducted, Haynes said.
Winkler said it would cost $5,000 to $8,000 to conduct an election under Proposition 218 regulations. Another option would be to form a private group, that could include Highway 88 merchants and residents, to pay the electrical bill.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.