Legislators fight proposed CA utility fees

Pacific Gas & Electric vehicles are parked at the PG&E Oakland Service Center in Oakland on Jan. 14, 2019. Photo by Ben Margot, AP Photo

California’s big utilities promise that a proposed change in customer energy bills would help low-income families. But now Democratic lawmakers are joining Republicans in saying that the move is unfair to their constituents and will set back energy conservation.

The debate centers on “fixed charges” — set fees included in your monthly electric bills that are added on top of what you’re charged based on usage. These fees go toward operating costs for the state’s electric grid.

In 2022, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a comprehensive energy bill, which included a provision requiring the California Public Utilities Commission to hammer out new fixed charges, ideally in a way where lower-income households pay less than higher-income ones.

Last April, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric proposed an income-based pricing structure for fixed charges that they estimated would save some of their lowest-income customers as much as 21% on average.

But some lawmakers, mostly Republicans at the time, argued that the proposal would not only drive up costs, but discourage people from saving energy too. 

Tuesday, some Democrats also sounded the alarm. Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks, joined by a handful lawmakers including Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, announced legislation to roll back the fixed charge mandate, calling it “impractical.”

  • Irwin: “Electricity rates have skyrocketed throughout the state…. Our constituents have had enough and so have we. It’s time to put some reasoning back into how we charge for electricity in California.”

Because “it is essential to lower our rates in order to meet our climate goals,” Irwin’s measure would also allow the commission to explore other options to pay for fixed costs and lower electricity rates.

Wiener said the proposed charges were “outrageous” and “offensive,” potentially adding as much as $830 a year for millions of middle-class people.

Meanwhile, Newsom’s office released a statement saying that the commission, whose members are appointed by the governor, “is working diligently with dozens of stakeholders” on a proposal, reported KCRA.

And what are Republican lawmakers saying? Mostly, “I told you so.”

Folsom Assemblymember Josh Hoover said Democrats are “walking back a bad policy they voted for just over a year ago,” and Senate GOP leader Brian Jones of San Diego said Democrats were wrong for supporting the law at all. On Tuesday, Senate Republicans attempted to force a floor vote to amend the law but were unsuccessful.

The commission has until July 1 to decide on the proposed new fixed charges.

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