PG&E Bills to Rise in New Year

SAN FRANCISCO >> PG&E customers must brace for higher monthly bills starting New Year’s Day because the embattled utility is recovering some costs for improvements throughout its system, the company said Friday.

Combined gas and electric bills will rise by a total of $1.66 a month, PG&E said.

“This updates the costs of providing safe and reliable electric transmission, distribution and generation services to customers,” said Donald Cutler, a spokesman for PG&E.

Electricity bills will increase $1.36 a month, effective Jan. 1. Gas bills will rise 29 cents a month, the utility said Friday. Some numbers might be off by a penny due to effects of rounding numbers.

In October, the average residential customer paid $151.80 a month for the combination of gas and electricity. That is due to rise to $153.46 a month, PG&E said.

“Average residential customers’ bills are still well below the national average,” Cutler said.

The higher bills go into effect just weeks before PG&E is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court for six criminal convictions arising from a fatal pipeline explosion in San Bruno.

The increases in monthly bills result primarily from decisions by the state Public Utilities Commission.

“We want our customers to know that we are here to help them make smart energy choices and manage their costs,” Cutler said.

The increases in monthly bills during 2016 have been significant for PG&E customers, according to this Bay Area News Group’s analysis of the utility company’s rates effective on Jan. 1 compared to roughly a year ago.

At the end of 2015, the average monthly bill for the typical PG&E residential customer was $137.66. But increases resulting from decisions by the state PUC and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would result in an increase of 11.5 percent once the Jan. 1 average bill of $153.46 goes into effect.

“An increase of nearly 12 percent for the year is outrageous,” said Mark Toney, executive director of The Utility Reform Network, a consumer group.

Still, PG&E noted that the average power bill at present is $174.03 nationwide, which is 13.4 percent more than what the PG&E bill would be effective Jan. 1.

The gap appears to be closing, however. At the end of 2015, the national average for power bills that PG&E quoted was $194.33 — which was 32 percent higher than the PG&E average bill at that time.

“The increases this year are way higher than inflation, they are way higher than wages,” Toney said. “It’s just not sustainable.”

Over the 12 months that ended in October, the inflation rate for the Bay Area increased by 3.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The real issue is that these increases are just the latest in a series of increases that have been occurring throughout the year,” Toney said.

The average PG&E electricity bill as of the start of 2017 will be $99.13, compared with $114.86 nationwide. The average gas bill for PG&E customers will be $54.33, compared with $59.17 for the U.S. average.

PG&E said the main drivers of the changes in electric bills include previously CPUC-approved rate changes, changes in generation costs due to customers choosing alternate energy providers and sources, and a decrease in a climate credit due to changes in market conditions.

The utility recommended that customers sign up for energy alerts to help them budget their power usage, set up a balanced payment plan that establishes consistent monthly payments even when seasonal spikes occur in usage, undertake a home energy usage audit, and look into the California Alternative Rates for Energy program for low-income ratepayers.

“We have a wide range of programs, tips and tools that can help our customers make the right choices for themselves and their families,” PG&E’s Cutler said.