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Heather Armstead, 47, loves running a licensed childcare business for four infants out of her Penngrove home in Sonoma County. But when her Pacific Gas & Electric bill goes up, as it already has this year and likely will again in 2023, it’s tough.
Armstead tries to keep charges steady for her families, who need to be able to plan, which makes dealing with unpredictable utility rates very difficult, she says.
Some 16 million PG&E customers could see their utility bills jump by an estimated 20 percent or more under rate hikes proposed by the utility giant. That would mean a yearly increase from 2023 to 2026.
That’s a heavy burden for people on fixed incomes, says Mark W. Toney, executive director of San Francisco–based consumer advocacy group The Utility Re- form Network.
“There is already an affordability crisis, and PG&E is making it worse,” Toney says.
Under the company’s general rate-case proposal (an application that utilities must file every four years), typical residential customers would see energy costs increase by 27 percent in 2026, according to California Public Utilities Commission estimates.
The commission is considering the proposals and holding public hearings. The regulatory body is not expected to make a decision until later this year or in 2023.
PG&E, which did not respond to requests for comment, has said that it would use $7.4 billion in projected revenues for wildfire prevention and clean energy investments.
“We realize that any proposed rate increase will impact our customers, and we support pro- grams that provide bill assistance to customers who struggle the most,” it noted in its application to the commission.
PG&E says the upgrades are necessary to shore up the utility’s infrastructure in the face of accelerating climate change.
As of press time, the total rate increase that the utility’s customers could face was unclear. If the commission were to approve the general rate-case proposal as is, typical residential customers would see their combined monthly electric and gas bills rise by roughly $58 by 2026, commission estimates show. That would amount to about $272 in monthly utility costs, on average, versus about $214 currently.
California consumer advocates say the potential rate increase is compounded by another PG&E proposal to spend billions of dollars on a wildfire mitigation plan to bury hundreds of miles of wires, among other measures.
But advocates say it isn’t clear how much that would cause customers’ utility bills to rise.
PG&E is not being transparent with specifics and “is dragging its feet on how much it’s going to affect their customers,” says Nancy McPherson, AARP California’s state director. What’s more, ratepayers were hit with a 9 percent increase in January.
“These numbers will devastate millions of Californians,” she says.
The rate-hike proposals come as PG&E continues to face in- tense public and legal scrutiny over its role in igniting deadly wildfires in recent years.
In June 2020, it pleaded guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter for its role in the 2018 Camp fire in Butte County. This past April, the company reached a $55 mil- lion settlement of charges by six counties arising out of the 2019 Kincade and 2021 Dixie fires. But it still faces involuntary man- slaughter counts tied to the 2020 Zogg fire in Shasta County.
Make your voice heard on the PG&E rate proposals by going to cpuc.ca.gov/PAO, sending an email to email@example.com or calling 866-849-8390.
Barbara Kingsley-Wilson is a writer living in Long Beach.