PG&E power bills are set to jump in January, an increase that could cause monthly costs for electricity to rise nearly $9 for residential customers, the embattled and disgraced utility revealed in a preliminary assessment.
Effective Jan. 1, 2020, monthly electricity bills could potentially rise an estimated $8.93, which would bring the average cost for electric service to $130.03 a month for the typical residential customer, PG&E said. The dollar amount would apply to a typical residential customer who receives bundled service and uses 500 kilowatt-hours per month
"This is pretty outrageous," said Mark Toney, executive director of The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, a consumer group. "A lot of people don't think PG&E deserves that kind of money. This is a pretty steep increase."
The increases in electricity costs that are slated to begin on New Year's Day would arrive on the heels of higher costs for both gas and electricity that went into effect on Oct. 1.
Disclosures of more expensive power have emerged just days after PG&E, confronted by the grim prospect of catastrophic wildfires and windstorms, launched widespread and intentional power outages that cut off electricity for 738,000 customers in 34 counties this month.
"You have to pay PG&E to keep the electricity on, and then you have to pay PG&E to shut the power off," Toney said.
On Oct. 1, PG&E electric bills rose $3.07, or 2.6 percent, to reach a current level of $121.10. The pending increases for New Year's Day would add to that amount.
Overall monthly bills for the average residential customer as of Oct. 1 were $177.74, for those who receive both electricity and gas services from PG&E.
"At PG&E, we are dedicated to providing our customers with safe and reliable energy while supporting California's ambitious clean energy goals," PG&E spokesman Paul Doherty said. "This filing helps us to do that by recovering our cost of services."
The filing sketched out PG&E's anticipated rate changes related to electricity service that's part of what is known in regulatory circles as the company's annual true-up.
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San Francisco-based PG&E wants the filing to provide a reasonably accurate estimate of how much customers can expect to pay in monthly electric and gas bills as of the first of each year.
"The filing consolidates all items that are approved -- or are pending and anticipated to be approved -- by the end of 2019, showing the resulting rate changes and their monthly residential bill impacts based on our current expectations," PG&E stated in an email sent to this news organization.
Typically, the state PUC holds a meeting in December to make final decisions on PG&E's electricity and gas rates, a proceeding that leads to changes in monthly bills starting with the new year. There are no assurances of what might be the outcome of such a proceeding.
While the prospective increase in monthly bills based on the annual true-up might unsettle some customers, TURN officials warned that other proceedings before the state PUC could trigger further increases in monthly bills.
"This filing by PG&E does not include the general rate case, the cost of capital proceeding, it includes none of the other proposals from PG&E," Toney said.
A forbidding landscape of mounting debts and wildfire-related liabilities that by some estimates range from $20 billion to $30 billion prompted PG&E to launch in January a $51.69 billion bankruptcy proceeding in a quest to reorganize its shattered finances.
The utility's financial woes have intensified in recent years in the wake of a string of catastrophic and deadly wildfires, including infernos during 2015 in Amador and Calaveras counties, 2017 in the North Bay Wine Country and nearby regions, and 2018 in Butte County. State investigators have determined that PG&E's equipment caused many of those blazes.
Already a convicted felon for crimes it committed before and after a fatal explosion of natural gas in San Bruno that killed eight in 2010, PG&E's attempt to extract more money from ratepayers in the form of higher monthly bills doesn't play well among customers, Toney opined.
"People are particularly upset about having to pay more to get less service," Toney said.