California proposes income-based fixed electricity charges

SAN FRANCISCO - The Public Advocates Office (PAO) for the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has proposed adding a monthly fixed charge on electric utility bills based on income level.  

The rate change is designed to lower bills for the lowest-income residents while aligning billing more directly with utility costs. 

PAO’s recommendation for the Income Graduated Fixed Charge places fees between $22 and $42 per month in the three major investor-owned utilities’ territories for customers not enrolled in the California Alternative Rates for Energy (CARE) program. As seen below, CARE customers would be charged between $14 per month and $22 a month, depending on income level and territory.

For households earning $50,000 or less per year, the fixed charge would be $0, but only if the California Climate Credit is applied to offset the fixed cost.

Meanwhile, usage-based electricity rates are lowered in the PAO proposal. Average rates would be reduced between 16% to 22% for the three major investor-owned utilities.

The lowest-income bracket of Californians is expected to save roughly $10 to $20 a month under the proposal, while middle-income customers may see costs rise by about $20 a month.

“We anticipate the vast majority of low-income customers ($50,000 or less per year) will have their monthly bills decrease by $10 or more, and a small proportion of the highest income earners ($100,000+ per year) will see their monthly bills rise by $10 or more,” said the PAO.

The charges are an effort to help suppress ever-increasing electricity generation and transmission rates, which are among the highest in the country. Rates are expected to rise sharply as wildfire mitigation efforts are implemented by the utilities found at fault for their origin.

“We are very concerned. However, we do not see the increases stopping at this point,” Linda Serizawa, deputy director for energy, PAO, told pv magazine. “We think the pace and scale of the [rate] increases is growing faster than we would have anticipated for several years now.”

The proposed changes are also meant to more directly couple billing with the fixed charges that utilities incur. For example, activities like power line maintenance, energy efficiency programs, and wildfire prevention are not expected to vary with usage, so these activities would be funded through a fixed charge.

Michael Campbell of the PAO’s customer programs team, and leader of the proposed program, likened paying for grid enhancements and other social programs with utility rate increases to “paying for food stamps by taxing food.” Instead, a fixed charge would cover these costs.

PAO said the move to lower rates for usage should help encourage electrification as California moves to replace heating and cooling, appliances, and gas combustion cars with electrified counterparts. In addition, lower rates mean the cost burden of running these devices is improved.


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