Source: San Francisco Chronicle | By Julie Johnson
Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s 16 million customers could be hit with higher electric and gas bills next year to help the utility recoup fire prevention costs plus expenses from emergency work during fires and storms.
State regulators are considering PG&E’s request to recover about $1.36 billion in expenditures by charging customers more, according to filings submitted this month with California Public Utilities Commission and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The typical residential customer receiving both electric and gas service could pay $8.67 more per month for electric service for 12 months starting in June — about $104 for the year. In the second year, customers would pay $1.49 more each month ($18 for the year) and, in the third year, $0.12 per month ($1.40 over the year). The charges would end after the third year.
Regulators routinely consider end-of-the-year requests like this from all utilities for unforeseen expenses, such as those incurred during wildfires.
But the increase comes as households are struggling with inflation driving the prices of milk, gasoline and other items higher. Utility rates are also rising because of global increases in natural gas prices.
And when bill increases are presented individually, it can disguise the larger picture of soaring utility costs, said Mark Toney, executive director of The Utility Reform Network, or TURN. Earlier this year, state regulators allowed PG&E to raise electric rates by more than 9%.
Plus, Toney said customers shouldn’t have to shoulder the costs of wildfire prevention given PG&E’s history of not adequately maintaining its electric wires. He pointed to an audit by the independent safety monitor overseeing the utility’s safety work that found the company had over a three-month period missed issues such as damaged poles in about 30% of all inspections.
“Shareholders should be held liable for wildfire costs when PG&E fails safety inspections again and again,” Toney said.
PG&E said the proposal includes expenditures in 2019 through 2021 for wildfire prevention work such as vegetation thinning, repairing equipment after wildfires and storms, plus programs to stop utility disconnections for customers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and other emergencies. The costs also include customer privacy protection expenses, according to PG&E.
Objections to PG&E’s request must be submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission by Jan. 17. The commission is expected to consider offering temporary approval before June and then undertaking a more thorough analysis, PG&E spokesperson Mike Gazda said. Any charges to customers not ultimately approved by the end of 2023 would be refunded.