In the October Sandpiper, I described the income-graduated fixed charges for electricity that was mandated by state bill AB 205 that would take effect in the next year or two. This law mandates that there should be a set of fixed charges for electricity based on your income (in addition to charges for the amount of electricity that is used) but the law does not mandate how much the fixed fees should be for each income bracket.
The initial proposal by the investor-owned utilities (SDG&E, SoCal Edison and PG&E) for the pricing for the fixed charges for electricity were very high. Since then, the utilities and other groups have proposed lower fees. Very low-income customers (on CARE/FERA plan) will continue to have very low fees as they do now. As of the current round of proposals, the utilities propose a fixed charge of $70/month, whereas Cal Public Advocates and another group have proposed a $30/month fixed charge. That is much lower than the original proposals, so that is good news. However, those proposals are only for the next 1-2 years because AB 205 called for multiple income brackets, but there are complexities in that. How will the CPUC verify household income? Will they add up all the incomes of everyone living in a dwelling? How will they get that information? Since this is complex, there is likely to be a first version in which there will only be 2 brackets: very low-income CARE/FERA customers, and all others. But, subsequently a new set of fixed charges will be established with more income brackets in place as mandated by the state law.
Even though the proposed fixed fees are lower than the very high fees initially proposed, these fees will raise the cost of electricity for low-income customers who are above the CARE/FERA thresholds and also for many middle-income customers. This fixed charge will penalize all those who are doing the right thing and conserving energy, or those who are conserving because they cannot afford higher electricity bills. The fees would also disincentivize rooftop solar installation and electrification, thus maintaining our high use of fossil fuels which contribute to the climate crisis.
The CPUC has until July to settle on the fees for this first round, so there is still time for these proposed fees to change again. Let’s hope the CPUC and/or our state legislature continue to listen to the environmental justice groups and other advocates who have been raising an uproar about the proposed fixed fees. Stay tuned!