PG&E is ringing in the new year with an increase in monthly gas and electricity bills that will rise at a faster pace than the local inflation rate.
The average residential bill of $137.66 for combined gas and electricity costs is increasing to $147.21 a month, Pacific Gas & Electric said Tuesday. The increase works out to 6.9 percent, or $9.55 a month for gas and electricity.
“That still is less than the national average combined gas and electricity bill,” a PG&E spokesman said. The national average for gas and electricity bills is $194.33 a month, which is 32 percent higher than the new average residential bill for PG&E.
It’s possible that the higher monthly power bills will pinch the budgets of consumers in the utility giant’s territory.
“This is more money going out of my pocket,” said Miguel Martinez, a San Jose resident and painter by trade who lives with his three children. “I’m on a very tight budget. I’m limited in what I can spend.”
Monthly electricity bills will rise 8.5 percent, increasing $7.58 from the previous $89.56 to a new average of $97.14, PG&E said. The average electricity bill in the United States is $125.22 a month.
Gas bills will rise 4.1 percent, increasing $1.97 a month from the prior $48.10 to a new average of $50.07. The average gas bill in the U.S. is $69.11 a month, PG&E said.
Consumer groups quickly lambasted PG&E’s higher monthly bills.
“PG&E is trying to underplay what will really be an onerous rate increase for many people,” said Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network, a consumer group. “If you are an executive at PG&E, it’s easy to say that it’s only $10 a month. But if you are a senior on fixed income, it’s not all that easy to say that.”
Another group, the Sierra Club, urged ratepayers to cut their ties to PG&E and either use alternative forms of power or enter into organizations that are providing power to compete against PG&E.
“Throughout the PG&E service territory, you are seeing more and more opportunities to no longer use PG&E,” said Evan Gillespie, director of the Sierra Club’s My Generation Campaign. “People can use solar in the home, or benefit from the creation of community choice energy programs.”
Marin Clean Energy, Clean Power San Francisco and efforts in Sonoma County are examples of consumers seeking alternatives to PG&E.
“PG&E is fighting all of these opportunities tooth and nail,” Gillespie said. “Customers are getting increasingly frustrated.”
The 6.9 percent increase for monthly residential power bills represents a jump that is more than double the annual inflation rate of 2.6 percent for goods and services in the Bay Area.
San Francisco-based PG&E said the higher rates are the result multiple decisions by state and federal regulators. Those include the end of a discount to ratepayers to compensate them for harm caused by the energy crisis, as well as other decisions and filings.
PG&E said it will offer consumers ways to help dilute the rising power bills.
“We want our customers and their families to know that we are here to help them make smart energy choices and save money whenever possible. We have a wide range of programs that can help,” said Laurie Giammona, PG&E chief customer officer.
The programs include direct financial assistance for customers, balanced payment efforts, home energy checks and the California Alternate Rates for Energy program, or CARE.
More increases could be in the works, however. The state Public Utilities Commission is considering a PG&E proposal for higher rates to pay for the utility’s gas transmission system, as well as a general rate case for gas and electricity.
“We are currently scrutinizing PG&E latest proposals for rate increases that would go into effect in January 2017, to make sure they are justified and reasonable,” said Cheryl Cox, a spokeswoman for the Office of Ratepayer Advocates, an independent consumer group based at the PUC.