PG&E monthly bills head higher starting in January

PG&E customers will ring in the New Year with an increase in their bills of just over $1 a month starting Jan. 1 due to a jump in gas bills that was offset by a slight decline in electricity bills, the utility revealed Friday.

“Rates for gas and electric customers of PG&E will change slightly to reflect the implementation of recent regulatory decisions,” PG&E said Friday.People who receive a combined gas and electricity bill from the utility will experience an increase of $1.08 a month, the result of a rise in gas costs of $2.64 a month and a decline in electric bills of $1.56 a month, according to PG&E.

“Any increase in PG&E bills is extremely difficult for people this time of year,” said Mark Toney, executive director of The Utility Reform Network, a consumer group.

Word of the higher bills arrives at a delicate time for San Francisco-based PG&E, which is a convicted felon for crimes the company committed before and after the fatal gas explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people.

In addition, PG&E faces heightened scrutiny from the state regulators and fire investigators in connection with the role the company’s aging electricity equipment played in a series of lethal infernos that scorched the North Bay Wine Country and other regions in October 2017, as well as probes of the deadly wildfire that tore through Butte

Combined electricity and natural gas bills will rise to an estimated $167.02 a month for the average residential customer, an increase of 0.7 percent. Electricity bills will decline to a new level of about $112.08, a 1.5 percent reduction. But gas bills will jump to $54.94, a 5.1 percent increase.

“PG&E is committed to providing safe, reliable and clean gas and electric service to its customers, and also keeping customer rates and bills as low as possible,” the utility said.

Skeptics criticized the upcoming higher monthly bills, even if the utility described the higher costs as modest.

“PG&E has never been eager to keep rates down, and they have used rate increases in the past for bonuses, incentives for executives and increased shareholder profits,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill, whose district includes parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and contains San Bruno. “I hope this is not another example of this.”

The powerful state Public Utilities Commission, which has been criticized by federal investigators for lazy supervision of PG&E, must make at least two major decisions, both potentially next year, on rate changes that were proposed by PG&E.

“Let’s hope the PUC is watching every dollar because PG&E customers are already paying about the highest utility bills in the country right now,” Sen. Hill said.

Earlier this month, PG&E asked state regulators for large increases in monthly electricity and gas bills, according to new official filings by the embattled utility company. Those requests came even before PG&E seeks any potential rate hikes linked to wildfire liabilities and lawsuits.

Customers who receive both gas and electricity services from PG&E can expect to pay $12.55 more a month in their power bills if the state PUC approves the two separate sets of proposed increases.

“PG&E has huge requests pending and may make further requests for wildfire increases,” Toney said. “The general rate case is of particular concern. It’s an enormous increase.”