CPUC holds public hearings Thursday, Sept. 18 in El Cajon on controversial utility rate change proposals
East County News Service
September 11,2014 (El Cajon) – Sierra Club’s San Diego chapter is warning consumers about deceptive claims made by the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce regarding proposed changes in utility bills, including links to a utility-backed website debunked by media for its efforts to dupe the public into supporting anti-consumer measures.
The California Public Utilities Commission will hold two hearings on the utility-backed proposed rate changes on September 18 at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. in El Cajon City Council chambers,200 Civic Center Way in El Cajon. The public is invited to attend and testify.
The Chamber sought to persuade members to testify in favor of proposed utility rate changes, suggesting they would save money for most. But those changes would actually “raise energy costs for low and middle income customers, those who can least afford to pay more on their energy bill,” says Pete Hasapopoulos with the Sierra Club My Generation Campaign. In addition, he warns, “the proposed changes by utilities are unacceptable and threaten our energy efficiency and rooftop solar programs. As a result, they are deeply out of line with state and public priorities on energy and climate.”
In an e-mail to Chamber members, General Manager Eric Lund said the current four-tier rate system has created “severe unfairness” to East County ratepayers and that those in the middle tiers are paying higher rates “subsidizing ratepayers who live along the coastal region and who don’t need air conditioning.” The Chamber urged members to testify in favor of a two-tier system and referred members to www.fixmyenergybill.com for more information.
But Hasapopoulos, in an e-mail to East County Magazine, attached a four-page fact sheet that includes a point-by-point “debunking” of the Chamber’s claims. Moreover, he states, “Foundation for Independent Voter Research Issues Committee PAC is behind FixMyEnergy Bill, which was a tool of SEMPRA/SDG&E …” promoting an anti-consumer bill last fall, he notes. After the group posted comments on UT San Diego articles seeking to dupe consumers, UT reporter Morgan Lee revealed the charade. Supervisor Dianne Jacob joined Sierra Club at a press conference in front of SEMPRA headquarters last year to speak out against the deceptive website.
The Independent Voter PAC is run by David Takashima, a former utility executive, the Reader has reported. It also has ties to former legislator Steve Peace, who throws a lavish party in Maui each year for legislators.
The legislature passed an energy bill last year, AB 327, that allows the California Public Utilities Commisison(CPUC) to change how utilities charge consumers for electricity. The changes, proposed by utilities, are largely opposed by consumer and environmental groups, as well as by clean energy companies. Opponents say the changes would lead to “more revenue for the utilities, more dirty power plants, and less local clean energy.”
What does the proposed utility rate change actually do?
California currently has four tiers for utility rates, with tier one the lowest rates and tier four the highest. Everyone gets a baseline amount of electricity at the lowest tier rates, and those in hotter climates are allocated more already. Thus Hasapopoulos says the Chamber’s claim that the rate changes are needed to provide lower rates to those in sweltering places such as East County is simply “not true.”
Customers who use more than their baseline amounts are then charged more.
The utility-backed proposal for rate changes would do two things:
- Add a monthly fixed charge of $10 to every customer’s bill ($5 for low income customers on CARE rates), providing up to $38 billion in revenues for utility companies over 25 years.
- Reduce the number of tiers to just two and have only a small difference in the rates charged. Tier one rates on the lowest energy users and low income consumers would go up, discouraging conservation and having negative impacts on those who can’t afford to pay more. There would also be a significantly smaller difference in rates between the top and bottom tiers, providing no real incentive for people to conserve energy.
Business groups pushing the plan forward have major financial ties to the utility industry; SDG&E, for example, regularly sponsors Chamber events, is a major donor to the Chamber and has an SDG&E representative on the Chamber board.
The Sierra Club's fact sheet warns that consumers should be wary of the utility-backed rate change proposal.
"Utilties claiming they care about their customers is like Colonel Sanders claiming he cares about chickens,"the fact sheet concludes. "It doesn't add up. Utilties have shown time and again they have little regard for their customers. Look no further than the San Bruno crisis or the mishandling of the San Onofre boondoggle to see examples of the utiliteis putting profits ahead of their customers."