If you’re in the habit of cranking up the A/C when you get home from work, firing up the electric oven for dinner, then running the dishwasher and washing machine to clean the mess, you may want to rethink your routines just a bit.
Southern California Edison, which furnishes electricity to millions of people in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, is rolling out a new rate system that will charge residential customers a lot more for electricity during peak hours — think 4 to 9 p.m. on weekdays.
It’s an effort to prod folks toward running power-gulping gadgets earlier in the day (when renewable energy is plentiful) or later at night (when demand drops off). It’s not popular with consumer groups, who say people just can’t cook dinner at noon.
“We fought against time-of-use rates because charging people more, just when they need electricity, is not the most consumer-friendly way to lower electricity use,” said Marcel Hawiger, staff attorney with The Utility Reform Network.
“We always push for doing other things — using carrots to reduce energy and using energy-efficient appliances — rather than punitive pricing. We lost that fight.”
Most people will be automatically switched to one of three different “time-of-use” plans — one that’s better for folks who hit the hay early, one that’s better for night owls, and one that’s designed for people with electric cars and the like, Edison said.
That means some bills may shoot up some 5-10%, depending upon habits and seasonal demands. But if folks time things right, increases could be more modest and people can even save money, the company said.
The old tiered plan — charging customers based on how much energy they use, rather than when they use it — will still be available, but customers will have to contact Edison and request to keep it.
You can go to the calculator here and figure out which plan you’d prefer. Otherwise, Edison will automatically enroll you in the plan that is projected to cost the least, based on your previous 12 months of usage. If you haven’t been in your home for a full year, you won’t be automatically switched.
Everyone who’s slated to be switched will get a letter from Edison 90 days before, detailing how much you’d pay under different plans.
Thousands of households in San Bernardino have already made the switch. This month, most of Orange County — 347,000 households — will be switched, and in December, 114,000 households in Riverside County and another 79,000 in San Bernardino County will join them. Los Angeles County households will start switching over in January.
“This has been a long time proceeding at the California Public Utilities Commission, and part of it was to design rates that are more in line with the actual cost of providing electric service,” Edison spokesman Ron Gales said.
“Another big driver is that, during the daytime hours, California has this abundance of renewable energy available. One of the biggest sources is large solar farms. There’s so much energy that, on some days, the California Independent System Operator (which runs the electrical grid) has to sell it to other states or give it away because there’s such an abundance of it.”
But starting at about 4 p.m., that renewable energy starts to decline. More expensive, and dirtier, conventional fossil fuels are fired up to replace it.
Most businesses have been on time-of-use plans for years. About 20% of households — one out of five — is opting out in this latest residential rollout, Gales said.
Since October 2020, the “TOU 4-9” plan has been the default plan for residential customers (better for those who stay up late, and may benefit smaller households in coastal areas with moderately sized homes or condos, Edison said). As time progresses, customers will be asked if they want to stay on that plan, or try one of the others, or return to tiered pricing.
Those who are switched to time-of-use plans, from now through April, get 12 months of bill protection. If they pay more on time-of- use plans for the first 12 months than they would have paid on their previous tiered rate plan, Edison will provide a one-time bill credit for the difference. That does not, however, apply to folks on TOU Prime.
Air conditioning key
“The reality is, how much you’ll pay really depends on whether you use a lot of air conditioning,” said TURN’s Hawiger.
“People do use appliances and lights in the evening, but all of that is not going to be huge. But during summer, if you’re coming home and turning on the A/C, that’s when it will really hit you. Hundreds of thousands of people could get hit with much larger bill increases during the summer months.”
Some will be able to pay an extra $200 or $500 a month during the summer, but others may find just half of that is a severe hardship.
If you do switch, keep an eye on your bills to see if things are going according to plan. You can switch plans twice the first year, but after that, but only once per year.
Low-income customers on the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) plan who live in “hot climate zones” will not be automatically switched. That was one of TURN’s wins during the years-long process before the PUC.
Those who are comfortable on computers should create an online account if they don’t already have one and take a look at the detailed information on their energy use that’s there. Those who aren’t can call Edison’s customer service reps and go over the information.
“You have to use your air conditioner when you have to use it,” he said. “But, if you have an electric washing machine and dishwasher and the like, run those after 8 or 9, or set them to run in the morning. It will help control a little. And I’m a big believer in programmable thermostats,” which can be had for $25 at the hardware store.