Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Low-income PG&E customers could pay more

Touted as helping the Central Valley, the proposal would raise rates for most Valley customers.

SAN FRANCISCOThis Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to consider a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. proposal to increase electricity rates for low-income customers and those who use lower amounts of energy, while giving a break to the highest energy users.

Last month, the CPUC issued draft decisions to approve three PG&E residential rate proposals, each of which would hike electricity rates for low-income customers and customers with low or moderate levels of energy use.  The changes would immediately add a $2.40 monthly customer charge to every low-income customer’s bill and a $3.00 customer charge for all other customers. 

Advocates are most shocked by PG&E’s proposal to create a brand new, higher rate category, “Tier 3,” for low-income customers who qualify for reduced rates under the CARE (California Alternative Rates for Energy) program. These new, higher rates would kick in when CARE customers use roughly 30 percent less power than the average customer, adding an additional $18.00 monthly to the summer bills of Central Valley CARE customers who use a moderate amount of energy. All of PG&E’s rate proposals would lower rates for customers with the most extreme level of power usage. 

“PG&E claims the new rates would be fairer and bring relief to customers in the hot Central Valley,” said Greenlining Institute Senior Legal Counsel Stephanie Chen. “In fact, the Valley customers who would get lower bills are the ones using energy excessively – the people air conditioning 8,000 square foot houses and running 65-inch plasma TVs constantly.”

“If these rate changes are approved, most customers in the Central Valley and elsewhere – including all low-income customers and all moderate energy users – would end up with higher bills,” said Martha Guzmán-Aceves, legislative analyst for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. “Though $18 a month may not seem like much, CARE customers – whose annual income can be no more than $44,400 for a family of four – are already struggling. Some will literally have to choose between keeping the lights on and feeding their kids.”

Greenlining’s full comments on the proposal are available online here. Greenlining legal counsel Enrique Gallardo will attend the CPUC meeting and be available to speak to reporters.

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