Rates go up slightly for SDG&E, SoCalGas

SDG&E customers will pay about $1 more per month

Power bills for San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas customers will go up slightly after the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Thursday unanimously approved a rate hike.

“This is a very well-balanced and well-reasoned assessment,” CPUC commissioner Catherine J.K. Sandoval, said just before the 5-0 vote was cast in San Francisco.

According to SDG&E figures, a typical customer will see a $1.38 increase in electricity charges and a 35-cent decrease for gas, for a net increase of about $1 a month.

“I’m pleased we have a decision that allows us to move forward with the operations of our business and that this decision adopts largely the settlement that we reached that results in one of the lowest increases for general rate cases that I have been involved in,” said Lee Schavrien, chief administrative officer at SDG&E.

According to CPUC figures, the typical SoCalGas bill will go up 3 percent. SoCalGas estimates the average customer’s gas bill will increase by about $1.35 per month. SoCalGas serves about 21.6 million customers in parts Southern California, including Orange County.

SoCalGas and SDG&E are subsidiaries of Sempra Energy, a Fortune 500 company based in San Diego.

The figures cited by SDG&E are a bit complicated.

The utilities have been working on the case since December 2013 but due to a backlog at the CPUC, Thursday’s vote came more than six months later than scheduled.

That means the changes in rates are retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year.

SDG&E officials told the Union-Tribune customers will start to see the increases after Aug.1 and the higher prices will be spaced out over a period of 17 months — something the SDG&E figures reflect.

“This rate case decision came up later than we had anticipated and so one of the things we asked for is to have (the increase) collected over 17 months, as opposed to 12 months,” said Caroline Winn, SDG&E’s chief energy delivery officer. “We don’t want to increase rates during the summer.”

Thursday’s ruling is $104 million lower than the $1.895 billion in revenues SDG&E requested and $127 million lower than SoCalGas’ request of $2.331 billion.

According to CPUC figures, the costs represent an increase of $50 million over present rates for SDG&E and $138.8 million for SoCalGas.

A number of consumer groups approved of Thursday’s vote.

“We thought overall it was a very positive decision,” said Mark Pocta, program manager at the Office of Ratepayer Advocates. “And it still ensured that the utilities had an adequate funding for capital investments and improvements.”

Mindy Spatt, communications director at The Utility Reform Network, said, “Rate hikes in the 1-3 percent range are relatively good for consumers.”

The decision Thursday lasts through 2018.

The CPUC vote closely follows the details of a proposal delivered last month by two administrative law judges.

The 332-page proposal included a host of measures in reaction to the massive natural gas leak at the Aliso Canyon storage facility, which is overseen by SoCalGas.

However, Thursday’s decision dealt strictly with the rate case, as the CPUC has decided to handle the provisions dealing with Aliso Canyon separately.

The proposal issued in May calls for preventing SoCalGas from awarding compensation to its executives and non-union employees without first taking the effects of the leak into consideration.

In addition, the two judges call for SoCalGas to account for the costs associated with the leak in isolation to help ensure no costs are reflected the next time SoCalGas files its next rate case, scheduled for 2017.

In California, utilities are required to go before the commission with their general rate case matters.