Despite testimony from many Californians about the economic toll a utility rate increase would take on them, the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday voted unanimously to allow Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to raise its electricity and natural gas rates in order to cover the cost of wildfire-hardening infrastructure.
The proposed rate increase, which goes into effect Jan. 1, will result in an average monthly increase of $22.20 for electric-only customers, $10.43 for natural gas-only customers, and $32.62 for electric and gas customers.
The commissioners acknowledged the financial hardships of struggling Californians, and urged low-income ratepayers to apply for aid to reduce their monthly costs, but added that inflation and supply chain issues have led to hardship for the investor-owned utility as well.
The approved plan will allow PG&E to bury 1,230 miles of electric wire — in order to reduce the risk of sparking a wildfire — and also calls for 778 miles of “covered conductor,” which also mitigates wildfire risk.
In addition to lengthy in-person and over-the-phone public comments against the rate increase Thursday, with several people pointing to PG&E’s responsibility for causing multiple deadly wildfires, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers also spoke out against the proposal.
Sen. Marie Alvarado-Gil, D-Jackson, wrote the commission to express “strong opposition” to a rate increase.
“Californians are already overwhelmed with the ever-increasing cost of living all around them. Approving an increase in utility rates, at this time in particular, is imprudent if we truly wish to put customer ratepayers first,” she wrote.
Sen. Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, who is vice chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications, said in a statement that a rate increase hurts not just households but also businesses, which must pass on increased costs to their customers.
“Californians face challenging times right now, and Democratic policymakers and their bureaucratic buddies should focus on solutions that reduce the cost of living, not let companies like PG&E continue to bankrupt their ratepayers,” Dahle said.
Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, said in a statement that Democrats in the Legislature need “a complete reality check” in lieu of approving a rate increase.
“People shouldn’t have to choose between insanely high utility bills and power that is delivered reliably and safely to their homes,” Gallagher said.