PG&E on Tuesday proposed an increase in rates that would, if approved by state regulators, lead to higher electricity and gas bills for the company’s customers, according to an official filing.
The utility giant is asking for a 2.5 percent increase in revenue, which would go into effect starting in early 2017, if the state Public Utilities Commission agrees to the proposal. The rate increase proposal applies to the years 2017, 2018 and 2019. A final decision from the PUC on the proposed increase is expected in late 2016.
San Francisco-based PG&E said its typical residential customers would experience an increase of an average of $4 a month in their power and natural gas bills.
“We need the funds for new things that will enable us to be the safest and most reliable gas and electricity provider in the nation,” said Keith Stephens, a PG&E spokesman.
The electricity bill for residential customers would rise by an average of $3 a month, while gas bills would increase $1 a month, Stephens said.
The proposal drew swift criticism from consumer advocates.
“These appear to be increases that could hit consumers very hard,” said Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network, a consumer group. “An increase of $4 a month is not insignificant for many customers.”
The utility has been under fire for how it uses its ratepayer revenue in the wake of a fatal explosion of natural gas in San Bruno nearly five years ago.
An investigation into that blast determined that it was caused by PG&E’s shoddy maintenance and flawed record keeping, along with lax oversight by the PUC. But the probes into the blast also suggested that PG&E might have spent its revenue unwisely in some cases, giving insufficient attention to safety.
“Safety and reliability are like a bottomless pit at PG&E,” Spatt said. “We would like to see PG&E deliver on some of its past promises for reliability before it gets more money from ratepayers.”
PG&E requested a $457 million increase in revenue starting in 2017, the utility said in its filing with the PUC.
“We are focusing on investing in smart grid technology that will help our grid integrate with renewables and deal with electric vehicles and batteries,” Stephens said. “We are trying to harden our infrastructure for emergency preparedness; we hope to prevent wildfires with new technology.”
The utility also hopes that the increase in revenue will help it improve its vast network of natural gas pipes, a system that’s under intense scrutiny in the wake of the San Bruno explosion. That disaster killed eight and wrecked a quiet residential neighborhood.
“This increase will help us respond more quickly to calls about gas leaks,” Stephens said.