RATE SHOCKER: UTILITY BILLS TO RISE FOR MANY SAN DIEGANS

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East County News Service

July 7, 2015 (San Diego’s East County) – Warning: Your future utility bills may provide a shock.

Electric utility bills will soon be going up for most San Diegans, though some heavy energy users’ bills will go down.   Instead of four tiers for energy use and payments, there will now be just two.  Not only will low energy users and low-income people be paying more,  they will also be charged more for energy use during peak periods such as mid-afternoon. Those hikes come despite the fact that San Diego already has among the highest electricity rates in the United States.

The new rates are the result of dramatic change in electricity rate structures approved by the California Public Utilities Commission over the holiday weekend for customers of San Diego Gas & Electric, Pacific Gas  Electric, and Southern California Edison.

The action prompted the consumer advocacy group TURN, The utility Ratepayers Network, to tweet, “Toothless CPUC does exactly what it is told by PG&E, Edison and SDG&E.”

The action narrows the rate gap between the state’s smallest and largest energy users. Utilities have said that the gap is so wide that some Californians are now paying less than the cost of delivering their electricity. 

Michael Picker, the new chair of the CPUC, says the commission took action to “make sure rates are reasonable and fair to all California utility users,” the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

But ratepayer advocates and environmentalists say the action goes too far and is anything but fair, taking away incentives for conservation and even potentially having a negative impact on the thriving solar market.

The pubic voiced strong opposition to the plan, while utility groups lobbied heavily in support.

The commission’s action will give relief to some homeowners who are in the upper tier and were essentially subsidizing neighbors who used less. 

Those who use the very most –four times more than bottom tier users – will be hit with a surcharge SDG&E has argued this could benefit inland users who must run the air conditioning long hours in summer heat. But the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that would aid just 2.5% of SDG&E customers.

But for most everyone else, your rates will be going up.  Even for subsidized low-income customers.

Even those drawing zero power off the grid will face a minimum $10 a month charge to stay hooked up each month, or $5 for subsidized customers. 

Hitting ratepayers up for higher payments during peak periods aims to reduce strain on the grid, since wind power produces most of its energy at night and solar shortly before midday.

Michael Powers, co-owner of Stellar Solar in San Diego, told the Union-Tribune that the action seems to run counter to the Legislature’s and Governor’s stated goals of making clean energy an engine of economic development.  The CPUC action is making “solar less and less affordable,” he said, adding that if tax cuts for solar are not renewed at the state and federal level, affordability will be slashed even more.