SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Nearly 16 million people in California will see their electric and gas bills rise by an average of more than $32 a month over the next year to force one of the nation’s largest utility companies to pay more. Its power lines are meant to reduce the possibility of wildfires.
Pacific Gas & Electric had initially asked state regulators for permission to raise rates by more than $38 a month so it could bury 2,100 miles (3,380 kilometers) of power lines in areas that are at high risk for wildfires. But consumer advocacy groups complained, arguing that PG&E could save ratepayers money and still reduce the risk of wildfires by placing protective coverings on power lines rather than burying them.
Thursday’s decision by the California Public Utilities Commission attempted to find a middle path. Commissioners decided to allow PG&E to lay 1,230 miles (1,979 km) of power lines, which would be $1.7 billion cheaper than PG&E’s proposal.
The commission rejected a proposal from a pair of administrative law judges that would have allowed PG&E to bury 200 miles (322 kilometers) of power lines while installing protective cover on only 1,800 miles (2,897 kilometers) of power lines. .
“As a commission we have fought forcefully the additional hardship these increases will create for families,” said Commissioner John Reynolds, who wrote the proposal approved by regulators. “All I can say is that I have full confidence that you are getting something out of this investment.”
PG&E said 85% of the increase was to improve safety at its gas and electric operations. It says typical bills will increase by about $32.50 next year, followed by an increase of $4.50 in 2025 and a decrease of $8 per month in 2026.
For low-income customers who qualify for the discounted rates, PG&E said typical monthly bills will increase by $21.50 next year, followed by $3 per month in 2025 and $3 per month in 2026. There will be a decrease of $5.50.
“We are committed to being the safe operator that Californians expect and deserve,” PG&E CEO Patty Pope said in a written statement. “We appreciate the Commission recognizing the important safety and reliability investments we are making on behalf of our customers, including moving power lines underground to permanently reduce wildfire risk.”
Electric rates have been rising massively over the past decade in California as utility companies race to upgrade their aging infrastructure to prevent wildfires. PG&E’s residential rates have more than doubled since 2006, according to The Utility Reform Network, an advocacy group for ratepayers.
The turning point for PG&E came in 2018 when a storm downed one of its power lines in the Sierra Nevada foothills, sparking a wildfire. Within hours, the fire spread to Paradise, where it destroyed much of the city and killed 85 people.
PG&E ultimately pleaded guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter and filed for bankruptcy after facing losses of more than $30 billion related to the Paradise fire and other fires started by its equipment. The company has promised to lay 10,000 miles (16,093 kilometers) of power lines over the next decade.
The five people on the commission, appointed by Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, unanimously approved the rate increase, expressing concern for ratepayers.
Commissioner Darcy Hawk said, “The rates we are asking ratepayers to pay are increasing at a rate that will become unaffordable in the near future if we don’t find mechanisms to better control costs.” “
Before the vote, dozens of people called the commission complaining that PG&E’s rates were already unaffordable, with one woman testifying that she doesn’t watch TV or turn on the pilot light for her gas stove because she Can’t afford it.
Cheryl Maynard, who identified herself as a survivor of the Paradise fire, called the rate increases “outrageous” and accused the company of secretly recovering billions of dollars paid to wildfire victims in a settlement. Accused of trying.
“PG&E is taking away its settlement from us by raising rates. This has to stop,” she said.