Will PG&E TURN You On or Shut You Off?

The Answer May Be in These Maps

PG&E wants to get into the electric vehicle charging business on customers’ dime- even though the majority of its customers are far more likely to be shut off than use charging stations PG&E will raise rates to finance. While about 300,000 customers are shut off every year, at the end of 2015, less than 75,000 customers owned electric vehicles. Still, PG&E proposes adding $222 million to customers’ bills, so that a few EV owners in wealthy areas will be able to better avoid range anxiety.

Even the notoriously lax California Public Utilities Commission has said no to the scheme. But PG&E won’t give up on getting customers to finance this completely unnecessary experiment. PG&E has even gone so far as to claim the charging stations will benefit “low-income” communities, but in CPUC hearings on the scheme, the benefits were purely speculative, and some of the low-income communities PG&E intended to target turned out to be high income.

Under cross-examination from TURN attorney Elise Torres, PG&E was forced to admit that the “disadvantaged” communities that would receive the stations at no cost would benefit areas surrounding hugely wealthy businesses, rather than struggling customers- many of whom can’t afford EVs anyhow. PG&E’s targeted areas include hugely profitable companies with executives that receive millions in pay every year.

The story is told in the maps PG&E had to provide in response to TURN’s questions. Areas targeted for low-income benefits include the huge, luxurious campuses of Google and Linked-In in Mountain View. Big businesses in downtown San Francisco will also be winners, with 100% ratepayer subsidized “low-income” charging stations targeted to the same neighborhoods as the headquarters of Uber, Twitter and the Bank of America.

What’s worse, the rate hikes P&GE wants to fund the EV chargers with would be on top of billions more PG&E is demanding in two other rate cases, which could end up costing customers close to $15 per month more in the next few years.

“For every customer who uses the charging stations, approximately 3 will be shut off,” said Torres. “It is simply wrong for PG&E to force hundreds of thousands of struggling customers to subsidize electric vehicle owners living in wealthy zip codes.”

There’s really no need for PG&E to stretch itself- and customers’ bills- in this new direction. Plenty of other companies specialize in charging stations, and are anxious to build them- without interference from a monopoly that relies on captive ratepayers to fund its new business ventures.

The San Francisco Chronicle sharply criticized the scheme in a recent editorial, saying “PG&E should not own the stations, and ….should stick to its job of delivering electricity, not entering a whole new business of running an electric highway.”

Twenty-two members of the California legislature agree that the CPUC should rein P&GE in, and joined Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park) in expressing concern in a letter to the Commissioner Peterman on April 19. The legislators noted that PG&E’s proposal “fails to fully offer the same features as programs approved for Edison and SDG&E.” In those cases, TURN won much smaller experiments with special benefits to genuine low-income communities, not the fake ones PG&E is trying to pass off as needy.

PG&E Maps of Disadvantaged Communities