SAN FRANCISCO – California’s largest investor-owned electric utility is pressing regulators to approve a nearly 10 percent hike in electricity fees, raising its captive customers’ power bills to an average $200 per month.
The demand, which Pacific Gas & Electric, or PG&E, presented to the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC, in December, is its latest brazen attempt to get as much profit as possible from its 16.5 million ratepayers. It’s no surprise from a company that causes deadly wildfires and then asks customers to fork over billions of dollars for wildfire safety efforts, paid for through unjustifiable bill increases.
“PG&E has never resisted an opportunity to grab money from its customers, even as it neglected grid maintenance for decades in favor of paying dividends to its investor-owners,” said EWG President and California resident Ken Cook.
“California is a leader on clean energy, but the state is still captive to the outrageous financial demands of a flawed utility – even as it has gained regulatory support to crush its only competitive threat, rooftop solar,” said Cook.
PG&E outlined the latest outrageous rate increase request in its annual regulatory electric and gas filings with the CPUC. PG&E’s regulatory filing will hike customers’ monthly gas and electric bills by 9.4 percent.
A PG&E spokesperson told The Mercury News the exorbitant rate hike is needed to cover the costs “for grid safety, reliability and resilience investments and upgrades, including work to reduce wildfire risk.”
On Tuesday, the state wildfire management agency CalFire confirmed a damaged powerline owned and operated by PG&E caused last summer’s Dixie Fire, which burned more than 963,000 acres and destroyed more than 700 homes. The fire was the second largest wildfire ever recorded in California.
In effect, consumers are being asked to pay for decades of PG&E’s “grid negligence,” during which billions were paid to investor-owners at the expense of transmission system maintenance.
PG&E also needs the rate increase to cover the surging costs of natural gas and electricity in the global commodity markets, the spokesperson claimed.
“This rate surge wouldn’t be necessary, as PG&E claims, if California regulators and politicians made good on their pledge to fully embrace clean energy, and dismantle the centralized, transmission-grid-heavy outdated utility business model that causes devastating and deadly wildfires that ravage California annually,” said EWG’s Cook.
PG&E, along with Southern California Edison and San Diego Power & Light – the other two investor-owned utilities in the state – has tentative support from regulators to crush the only prospective competitor to their monopoly control of power generation and distribution: California’s burgeoning rooftop solar industry, which is fast becoming a rooftop-plus-battery industry.
State regulators are poised to sock current and prospective rooftop solar consumers with hefty new monthly fees, regardless of their economic status. The proposed changes in California’s rooftop solar program are designed to quash the solar market. For PG&E customers, the extra high fixed charge on residential customer-owned solar means adding another $10,000 plus cost to their solar arrays over the 20-year lifetime of the system.
The utilities see the growth of rooftop-solar-plus-battery adoption as the only threat to their monopoly profits. Polls consistently show Californians strongly support rooftop solar as a way to free themselves from rising electricity prices and periodic blackouts linked to wildfire risks and other problems with PG&E’s poorly maintained electric grid.
If the CPUC focused its policies on building out more solar and battery storage for residential and small business customers, including low-income communities, energy bills would shrink to affordable amounts and reliability would improve, all while creating more local jobs, said EWG’s Cook.
“Instead of pushing PG&E to a smarter, cleaner approach to power, state regulators apparently prefer bending to the company’s influence. It’s bad for utility bills, bad for grid resiliency, and bad for the climate,” said Cook.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.