Speakers oppose proposed $2B PG&E rate hike

An array of speakers told California Public Utilities Commission administrative judges at a public hearing in San Francisco Tuesday that they oppose a proposed PG&E Co. rate hike of nearly $2 billion.

The fee increase, if approved by the commission, would be primarily to pay for wildfire safety improvements. It would give the utility $1 billion more than its current revenue of $8.5 billion in 2020, another $454 million in 2021 and $486 million more in 2022.

The average residential household would pay $10.57 more per month in 2020 and $20 more per month by the end of the three years. San Francisco-based PG&E provides electricity and natural gas to 16 million people in Northern and Central California.

PG&E Chief Executive Officer Bill Johnson, who took office in May, told the audience the fee increase “will help fund a series of important safety investments.” He said the money would not go to pay for managers’ salaries or for wildfire damage claims in the utility’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy

But nearly all of the 16 people who spoke at the meeting opposed the rate hike, arguing that it would hurt working people and that PG&E shareholders rather than customers should pay for needed improvements.

“Ordinary people should not be forced to pay for PG&E’s disregard for people’s lives and property,” said Joel Britton, a Socialist Workers Party member and former oil refinery worker.

Allegra Mautner, a former electrical line inspector in San Mateo County, alleged that PG&E saw safety “as an annoyance on the way to profits for shareholders.”

“Asking people to pay more on energy bills when some people can’t pay the bills they have is not the way forward,” she told the two administrative law judges conducting the hearing.

The two judges, Rafael Lirag and Elaine Lau, will prepare a proposed decision for the five-member commission after hearing testimony from the parties in the case and reviewing filings.

The commissioners will have the option of either accepting the proposed decision or preparing and approving an alternate decision.   Tuesday’s hearing was the first of nine public participation events the administrative judges will hold in PG&E’s service area through August 14.

Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma also attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Public comments can also be submitted to the commission by email at public.advisor@cpuc.ca.gov or by postal mail to 505 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco CA 94102. The proceeding number is A.18-12-009.

Constance Pierre, the organizing director of The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, said, “We want to make sure that every dollar earmarked for safety improvement is spent on that and nothing else.”

She did not state a position on the rate hike, but urged members of the public to “lift up your voice and be heard.”

Future public participation meetings include sessions at both 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. in Oakland at 1515 Clay St. on July 24; San Jose at 100 Paseo de San Antonio on July 25; and Santa Rosa at 100 Santa Rosa Ave. on July 31.