Source: SiliconValley.com | By George Avalos
PG&E monthly bills would jump about $30 a month under a new proposal by the utility behemoth to bury thousands of miles of power lines as a way to ward off the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
The power utility is seeking state approval for a revenue increase of $10.5 billion to bury 3,600 miles of electricity lines, according to a new PG&E proposal that was sketched out Monday in a federal regulatory filing.
Electric bills could rise by $31.41 a month for average residential non-care customers whose bills aren’t subsidiary and $20.73 a month for care customers who have low incomes, PG&E estimated Monday.
“PG&E has taken a stand that catastrophic wildfires shall stop,” said PG&E Chief Executive Officer Patti Poppe. “Our Wildfire Mitigation Plan for 2022 details the work we are doing right now to make that stand a reality.”
The latest PG&E proposal to raise monthly bills arrives in the wake of a Jan. 1 increase in monthly PG&E bills and the revelation of another increase that’s set to take effect during March.
A consumer group, The Utility Reform Network, harshly criticized the PG&E proposal.
“Mindboggling PG&E increases are a punch in the gut to millions of California residents hurting economically from the pandemic and struggling to get back on their feet,” said Mark Toney, TURN’s executive director.
PG&E plans to bury at least 175 miles of powerlines this year, the utility said. PG&E intends to further increase the pace to complete about 3,600 miles of lines by 2026. That’s about one-third of its overall 10,000-mile undergrounding program that the company announced last summer.
“This is the largest effort in the nation to underground power lines as a wildfire risk reduction measure,” PG&E stated.
The higher monthly bills arising from this work to bury power lines are expected to occur from 2023 through 2026, PG&E said.
PG&E also released its 2022 plan for wildfire prevention, an effort that features the expansion of an existing program that allows power to be turned off more quickly when a branch or a tree hits a power line.
In 2021, the utility introduced a new Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings program or EPSS for short.
“The EPSS program involves changing electrical equipment settings so that if an object contacts a distribution line, power is automatically shut off until we can patrol the line to ensure there is no ignition risk,” PG&E stated in a PUC filing.
PG&E launched the shutoff program in 2021 on 11,500 miles of distribution circuits in areas with high fire risks, which equates to 45% of the circuits in those kinds of risky regions. PG&E is expanding the program to 25,500 distribution line miles.
The utility instituted the program after state investigators determined that the Dixie Fire, a mammoth blaze that torched parts of Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Shasta, and Tehama counties, began after a tree hit a power line that wasn’t de-energized for hours after the incident.
It could be some time before the full impacts on customer bills become known because PG&E’s 2022 wildfire mitigation plan could become part of multiple general rate cases, PG&E said.
The overall cost of the wildfire mitigation plan is $5.5 billion.
However, it is clear that PG&E customers are being forced to endure significant cost increases that are taking
On Jan. 1, just a few weeks ago, the first of at least two rounds of increases in monthly utility bills jolted PG&E customers.
Here’s how the January bill changes break down for the average PG&E customer, according to approximate estimates that PG&E provided to this news organization in late December.
The figures compare the January 2022 monthly bills with the December 2021 bills: Combined electricity and gas bills in January averaged $221 a month for the typical ratepayer, an increase of $19, or 9.4%, compared with the prior average bill of $202 in December 2021.
PG&E customers, effective with their March bill cycles, will endure another round of increases in their costs in the coming few weeks.
The average electric bill of $152 a month is set to increase by $14 to a new total of $166 a month, PG&E estimated. That works out to an increase of 9.2%, according to PG&E’s calculations.
This means that the overall monthly PG&E bill, electricity had gas combined, is expected to average about $235 a month as of March. This combined monthly total results from the $166 average electric bill and $69 average gas bill.
All of this points to an increase of 16.3% over the first three months of 2021 for PG&E monthly bills compared to where average bills were at the end of 2021.
The monthly costs in 2021 for PG&E customers marked the first time that the average residential bill electric and gas bill topped $200 a month.
TURN called on the state Public Utilities Commission to find a way to rein in the frequent rise in monthly PG&E bills.
“The CPUC needs to protect affordable monthly bills by capping all rate increases at the rate of inflation, or the COLA increase received each year by people on Social Security,” Toney said.