Pacific Gas and Electric is seeking an increase in electricity and gas rates from the California Public Utilities Commission, a request that has produced a growing storm of critical voices from consumers whose budgets are pinched by other rising costs.
But just how high does PG&E want to push up the rates? The PUC, PG&E, and TURN — The Utility Reform Network, a public advocacy nonprofit — are coming up with different estimates.
Part of the problem, says Mark Toney, TURN’s executive director, is that PG&E continues to revise its application, and each time that happens TURN and the PUC have to recalculate their numbers.
TURN’s initial analysis of the PG&E pending general rate case proposal, 21-06-021, predicted that rates would climb by 36% this year and by 50% by 2026, Toney told GV Wire on Friday.
According to the PUC website, PG&E submitted modifications to its proposal in March and September last year, which included downsizing the number of miles the utility company is proposing for buried lines.
32% Higher by 2026
The PUC’s fact sheet on the rate hike proposal predicts that monthly electricity and gas bills for the “average” customer would climb by 18% in 2023 and higher in the next three years, totaling a 32% increase by 2026. The average monthly bill would rise from $216.70 this month to $285.65 by 2026.
The “average” customer uses 500 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 33 therms of natural gas monthly, according to the fact sheet, which was updated on Dec. 9.
Meanwhile, PG&E says that if the proposal is approved “in its entirety,” the monthly bill for the average customer would increase by $35.40, or 16.3%, spokesman Denny Boyles said.
He did not respond to a query as to whether that amount was for the entire duration of the general case rate through 2026 or just this year, or whether PG&E has submitted any additional revisions to its general rate case.
The proposed rate hike could come after an increase that took effect on Jan. 1 that PG&E attributes to an increase in forecast power costs in 2023, “recovery of undercollections in regulatory accounts,” and the Energy Cost Recovery Amounts, or ECRA, which “help reduce the costs of financing the PG&E emergence from bankruptcy.”
Toney said that increase could disappear later this year if electricity and gas prices drop. But if the proposed rate hike is approved in September — the PUC has said it expects a decision by the third quarter — customers will see an even bigger boost to their bills because the rate increase will be retroactive to January, Toney said.
In the past two years, the cost for a kilowatt hour of electricity for Fresno customers has risen by one-third, while the cost per therm of natural gas has soared by 65% for the tier 1 “baseline” rate and 43% for the tier 2 rate.
Consumers: Don’t Approve the Rate Hike
The possibility of a yet-another rate hike has produced a flood of public comments to the PUC, which posts them on its website. They include:
Mariah Vaughn of Clovis, Sept. 1: “I have lived in the same home for 10 1/2 years. I even replaced and upgraded my HVAC entirely 2 years ago. My bill has gone from about $150 in the summer months to $550 during the same months. I use it sparingly and even have it set at 80. These ridiculous rates already make it difficult to live comfortably and it really hurts financially during a time that everything else is insanely expensive. We shouldn’t be held responsible for paying out of our pockets for the legal issues your company has incurred. My bills have
more than tripled in a 10 year span for changing absolutely nothing and that is not acceptable.”
Mauriel Cantrell, Fresno, Sept. 2: “I live in a small 2 bedroom apartment. And my electric bill is so ridiculously and outrageously high! I don’t understand why? I don’t understand how I could live in a 2 bedroom apartment and have an electric bill for over 2 grand! This is insane! What am I supposed to in order to keep my family and I cool when the outside temperatures exceed 100 plus degrees? We’re also due for it to be much more hotter with temperatures reaching 111! I really need answers.”
(Note: Cantrell’s public comment was posted on the second day of a nine-day stretch of triple-digit days in Fresno, including three days above 110 degrees.)
Jessica Morgan, Fresno, Sept. 2: “Alice Busching Reynolds is the President of the CPUC who claims they: “empower California through access to safe, clean, and affordable utility services and infrastructure.”
“Hey Alice, maybe you need to “empower” PG&E to stop increasing their profits on the back of the citizens you claim to “empower” with “affordable” services. In the first quarter of this year, PG&E reported nearly TRIPLE the profit of the same quarter of the previous year. $475 million dollars profit in three months from California residents that are stuck with only PG&E as a provider with no recourse for cheaper or affordable services. Californians are left to just hoping that CPUC will actually stand up for the citizens they claim to serve. I can’t wait to see what PG&E reports as profit for the summer months.
“Stop penalizing California residents who convert to energy efficient products with increased rates. Do better Alice.”
Wildfire Costs Could Add More ‘Big, Big, Ugly Numbers’
Reynolds was appointed to head the five-member commission by Gov. Gavin Newsom in November 2021. Commissioner John Reynolds, who was appointed to the commission by Newsom in December 2021, was assigned to oversee the PG&E rate case proceedings in February 2022.
A PUC spokesman said no one from the agency was available to comment.
The rate hike is only one pending PG&E issue under consideration by the PUC, Toney said. The utility also has submitted “Wildfire Mitigation and Catastrophic Event” applications for 2019, 2020, and 2021 totaling $4.4 billion.
“There are billions of dollars that are on the table for mitigation recovery that PG&E is requesting that ratepayers pay. And you’re right, those would stack on top of the GRC, they’re not included in the GRC,” he said. “We’re talking some big, big, ugly numbers.”
About the PUC
The governor appoints the five PUC commissioners, who must be confirmed by the state Senate. The commissioners serve six-year staggered terms. The governor also appoints one of the five to serve as CPUC President.
The Public Advocates Office is an independent group within the CPUC that advocates solely for ratepayers.
How To Comment on Proposed Rate Hike
To submit comments to the PUC on the PG&E rate hike proposal, go to https://apps.cpuc.ca.gov/apex/f?p=401:65:0:ADDPC:NO