Last-minute revisions to two major electricity-cost issues pending before the California Public Utilities Commission could impact how much consumers pay for electricity provided by Pacific Gas & Electric and whether apartment dwellers statewide will continue to get direct use of solar power generated at their sites.
A consumer advocacy organization and a solar power association, both battling to halt the rise of electricity costs in California, are raising concerns about revisions in the PG&E general rate case and solar metering for apartments, schools, and farms that the PUC is scheduled to consider at Thursday’s meeting in Southern California.
Californians pay some of the highest electricity rates in the nation, and a rate decision pending before PUC will make PG&E rates go even higher.
The Utility Reform Network, a Bay Area-based nonprofit that advocates for consumers, says PG&E officials took advantage of delays to lobby for an extra $1.8 billion in revenues over the next four years. And that would be on top of revenue jumps in two rate case proposals totaling billions of dollars in those years.
Delays Costly — to Utility Customers
A decision on PG&E’s general rate case was repeatedly postponed this fall after the agency issued a proposed decision that would require the utility company to shift its plans for wildfire mitigation and bury only 200 miles of lines underground while hardening 1,800 overhead lines. The utility company has proposed burying instead of hardening lines. which critics say would raise costs excessively while delaying fire protections.
But after the PUC again delayed a decision on the general rate case earlier this month, utility officials met with agency staff to argue for an extra $1.8 billion in revenues.
The impact of that proposal on customer bills is unclear. But a prior proposal from the utility to bury even more miles of power lines would have sparked a 32% rate increase starting next year.
“TURN opposes PG&E proposals to line the furs of Wall Street investors by squeezing an additional $1.8 billion from ratepayers,” executive director Mark Toney said in a news release. “It is time for the CPUC to stand up for customers and choose safety and affordability and vote to adopt the original Proposed Decision at their Nov. 16 meeting.”
TURN is particularly critical of a recently-released revision of an alternative proposal by PUC Commissioner John Reynolds. The revision would expand the amount of buried lines from 973 miles to 1,230 miles and reduce the amount of hardened lines from 1,027 miles to 778 miles. TURN has argued that the utility could lower fire hazards more quickly and much less expensively by encasing aerial lines instead of burying them.
The revision would cost PG&E customers more than double the cost of wildfire mitigation — $4.7 billion as opposed to $2.105 billion in the proposed decision from September.
Revision to Solar Metering for Apartments
PUC also is scheduled to take up a decision on how solar power is metered at apartments, schools, and farms. Virtual Net Energy Metering 3.0 originally would have required apartment dwellers to pay utility companies at retail rates for electric power that is generated on solar systems at their site.
Under the current system, apartment dwellers use the power directly and pay their utility companies only for power that’s not generated at their site, and any excess generated is sold to utilities at retail rates with the apartment dwellers sharing in the proceeds.
The revision restores to apartment dwellers their access to solar-powered electricity and enables them to share in any revenues from electricity generated at their sites. Reynolds’ revision notes that allowing residents of single-family homes to have direct access to their power but not apartment dwellers raises equity issues, since apartment residents tend to have lower incomes.
But the California Solar and Storage Association contends that the revision, while helping apartment residents directly, doesn’t include meters for common areas such as hallways or EV charging stations that also would be of use and benefit for apartment dwellers. In addition, schools, farms, and small businesses with new solar systems will be required to pay full retail rates for power on solar systems they — and not the utility companies — have paid to install and maintain.
The PUC’s decision to require homeowners to sell excess power to utilities at wholesale instead of retail prices took effect in April for new systems. That decision, known as Net Energy Metering 3.0, and the pending virtual net energy metering decision are harmful to the solar industry as well as slowing California’s efforts to move to clean energy, Bernadette Del Chiaro, the association’s executive director, said.
“California should be in the golden age of solar,” she said in a news release. “But our state’s regulators — backed by powerful utilities that fear solar competition — seem intent on halting California’s clean energy progress.”