Hearings will give PG&E’s Bakersfield customers chance to weigh in on proposed rate hike averaging 6.4%

Public hearings scheduled for next week will allow Bakersfield-area residents a chance to offer input on Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s request to substantially raise the rates paid by its 16 million customers in Central and Northern California.

The investor-owned utility based in San Francisco has asked the California Public Utilities Commission for permission to raise its revenue next year by $1.06 billion, or 12.4 percent, in order to pay for precautionary measures designed to reduce wildfire risks, among other expenses.

PG&E also wants to boost its 2021 revenues by another $454 million, or 4.7 percent, and then increase them again in 2022 by $486 million, or 4.8 percent.

Opponents are already trying to make the case such increases are unjustified. But if PG&E does receive permission to proceed as requested, bills paid by its average customer will go from $165.94 per month to $176.50, an increase of $10.57, or 6.4 percent.

The company’s formal request to the CPUC is part of a routine, highly regulated process PG&E goes through every three years. Near the end of 2019, an administrative law judge with the agency is expected to make a recommendation to the commission on what size revenue increase seems appropriate.

The CPUC’s Public Advocates Office has suggested an alternative plan that would allow PG&E to raise its revenues much more modestly next year — $503 million instead of the requested $1.06 billion — and then impose another $298 million increase in 2021, followed by an additional $329 million in 2022.

Bottom line: Cal Advocates, as the office calls itself, is calling for a cumulative, three-year revenue hike of $2.44 billion, which is a little more than half the $4.57 billion PG&E is requesting.

Cal Advocates has offered a highly technical, almost line-by-line explanation of why it thinks PG&E can get by safely with less money than the company is asking for. The details of its case can be found online at https://www.publicadvocates.cpuc.ca.gov/general.aspx?id=4187

Another organization advocating on behalf of PG&E’s customers, The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, bluntly denounced the utility’s revenue request.

TURN spokeswoman Mindy Spatt said Tuesday the company should provide a full accounting of the money it has already spent doing tree-trimming and other steps that appear to have failed to prevent the wildfires that have prompted PG&E to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. She also questioned executive pay levels and other expenses she called “corporate excesses.”

“Higher rates don’t make PG&E safer. Accountability does,” Spatt said.

In a news release about the public hearings in Bakersfield and elsewhere, the CPUC said it will scrutinize PG&E’s activities to make sure the company gets the money it needs to provide safe and reliable service to customers and allow the utility to maintain and replace aging gas and electric infrastructure — “but at a reasonable cost to its ratepayers.”