SDG&E offers programs to assist low-income ratepayers, those with medical needs, and FLEX alerts for energy savings
By Walt Meyer
August 31, 2013 (San Diego)--Although temperatures have finally climbed to the normal range for the end of August, so far it’s been a mild summer, with temperatures below average, and for much of San Diego County, having things a few degrees cooler means not having to turn on the air conditioning. Hot summer days pose the biggest challenge to keeping the juice flowing without brownouts.
While renewable promise a long-term solution, in the short term, with San Onofre offline, likely permanently, the generating power of Southern California will be severely tested in a heat wave. As the region moves deeper into what is likely to a bad fire season, blazes near power lines also pose another imminent threats to the fragile power grid.
There is another good reason to try to keep the A/C off and switch to renewable: starting September 1, SDG&E is imposing a major rate increase. The rate hike will affect Tiers 3 and 4, but not Tiers 1 and 2 at all, which means many ratepayers in more temperate areas may not see any increase, but those who are usually have rates in the higher tiers will see their rates go up.
All SDG&E rate increases must be approved by the California Public Utilities Commission and under a rate deal struck years ago, the rates for the lower tiers were locked in with the intention of protecting lower income families and encouraging conservation, reasoning that power-hogs with large homes could afford higher rates.
But now many wealthier households are switching to solar and other alternatives and as the rates for the higher tiers increase significantly, many customers with lower incomes, but who live in hotter, inland areas will be paying much higher rates. In dollars and cents, this increase could see a household with a $200/month bill rise to almost $300 during peak periods. Commercial customers will also see a large rate increase.
SDG&E is offering a few options to help customers who may be struggling with higher bills. For low-income customers there are the CARE and FERA programs. For those with medical conditions requiring the use of high-energy equipment, there is the Medical Baseline program. And the Energy Savings Assistance plan provides a no-cost, home energy-efficiency upgrade based on income.
For those who don’t qualify for any of these programs, there is one other way to save—sign up for Flex Alerts. When everyone else is resorting to air conditioning, customers who turn theirs off or raise the thermostat setting by 4-6 degrees and turn off major appliances could earn credits on their SDG&E bill. During those hot summers days, running the dishwasher or doing laundry in the morning or evening—and definitely not between the hours of 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Can help a lot to prevent the power grid from crashing and keeping a home energy bill from spiking into a higher tier. Pool pumps and filters use a lot of power and turning them off during the peak hours will also help. Unplugging appliances that are not in use like DVD players saves energy, too. Leaving a phone charger or printer plugged in even when they are not being used does actually consume electricity. Consumers can monitor their energy consumption on their own “My Account” tab of the SDG&E page.
So far only two reduce use days have been called this summer, July 1-2, but as warmer temperatures are predicted into the fall, there is still a chance for higher consumption and higher bills. If everyone takes small steps there is enough power to go around and avoid the brownouts that have plagued California in the past.
SDG&E sought and got approval for the rate increase based on increases in the rates it has to pay for energy and numerous improvements to infrastructure including replacing wooden poles with fire-resistant metal ones in high-risk zones.
The long-term solution is renewable energy, but until that becomes feasible for everyone, paying higher utility rates will be the norm for years to come.