Democrats in the state Legislature have buyer’s remorse over a controversial 2022 law that would significantly raise energy rates.
In legislation introduced Tuesday, Democrats plan to repeal AB 205 (2022), which gave the California Public Utilities Commission a framework for utilities like PG&E to set a surcharge based on income on top of paying for power used.
In a rare example of Sacramento bipartisanship, Republicans agree that the law should be repealed.
But, the two parties aren’t quite ready to work together.
GOP Attempted Amendment Fails
Hours after a Democrat news conference, news releases, and letter to the CPUC, the state Senate rejected, along party lines, an amendment that would get rid of AB 205.
Under the law, the CPUC is considering a plan that would set a minimum fixed-rate payment starting at $51 (and as high as $125), depending on income levels. Those who qualify for low-income programs would get price breaks. And ratepayers would still be charged for the power consumed along with the new fixed surcharge.
“The fixed charges proposed by the utilities … would be the highest in the nation and would create an unacceptable burden for our constituents,” stated the letter, which was signed by 10 Democratic state senators.
Tuesday, Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, tacked on an amendment to an election bill (SB 863) being debated on the Senate floor. Grove’s amendment would repeal AB 205.
“We are creating energy poverty in the state of California, where bills are not sustainable for the average Californian,” Grove said on the floor. She said wages are not keeping up with energy inflation.
Instead, the Democrats voted to “lay the amendment on the table,” essentially tabling and rejecting the motion. It passed 31-8 — a yes vote meant no further discussion. Majority Leader Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said the amendment had nothing to do with the bill Grove attached it to, and Democrats already had a bill to repeal.
Anna Caballero, D-Merced, was one of 10 senators to sign on to the CPUC letter, and she voted to table the amendment. She agreed with McGuire that the amendments “were not germane to the bill being considered and a vote not to accept amendments was procedural.”
She said the letter she signed asked the CPUC “that any fixed charge considered does not unreasonably impact consumers.”
“The out-of-control cost of utilities, especially for Central Valley families who contend with brutal weather conditions, is an issue of critical concern for me. I intend to advocate for Valley families against unreasonable and excessive proposals,” Caballero told GV Wire.
Marie Alvarado-Gil, D-Jackson, who represents parts of Madera and Merced counties, also voted against the amendment and signed the letter to the CPUC.
“While this was a simple procedural vote, I absolutely agree with the policy goals of the amendments proposed on their own merit. I have much respect for my Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle as well as rules of decorum,” Alvarado-Gil said.
Democrats Introduce Repeal Bill
Democrats are supporting AB 1999, introduced Tuesday by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, that would repeal the 2022 law and strip CPUC of the ability to establish high fixed-rate surcharges.
“At a time when energy conservation is badly needed to avoid rolling blackouts, this dramatic policy shift could actually result in increased usage by some Californians,” Irwin said in a news release. “The CPUC has had the authority to implement a fixed rate charge, up to $10, since 2015, but it has declined to do so. I see no need to rush now. We must allow affected ratepayers to weigh in on this unprecedented new fee.”
The bill would cap fixed-rate costs at $10 a month (and $5 for low-income customers in the CARE program).
The bill would likely be heard in committee by early March. The CPUC has a July deadline to implement its fixed-rate plan.
Senate Republicans are essentially saying, “I told you so.”
The caucus sent out a news release, highlighting several times they attempted to repeal the law, including Tuesday’s floor action.
“In 2023, California Senate Republicans gave Senate Democrats several opportunities to right this wrong, yet they failed to act,” the Senate GOP said.
A Senate GOP attempt last September to repeal the law was blocked by Democrats on the floor.
Caballero voted for the 2022 bill and Grove voted against it. Alvarado-Gil was not yet in the Senate.
Other current Central Valley delegation votes on AB 205: Yes — Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Bakersfield; Assemblymembers Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno; Jim Patterson, R-Fresno; No — Assemblymembers Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield; Devon Mathis, R-Porterville.
What Is Newsom’s Position?
Gov. Gavin Newsom may not be on board with the Legislature.
“The Governor is aware that the Public Utilities Commission is working diligently with dozens of stakeholders in its public decision-making process, and he looks forward to seeing a Commission proposal that is consistent with AB 205 when it is released,” Newsom’s office said in a news release.
“California must combat climate change by rapidly expanding the use of clean electricity in our vehicles and buildings, while at the same time making it more affordable for low-income Californians,” Newsom’s office said.