Pacific Gas & Electric is asking its state regulator to allow the company to raise utility rates by some 8 percent in 2014 in order to invest in infrastructure and other cost recovery associated with complying with government regulations.
The request is for an additional $1.2 billion in charges, effective Jan. 1, 2014. For the average customer, PG&E reps said, that equates to an additional $12 a month.
On June 25, the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the utility when it comes to rates, held a public forum to hear the public’s take on the request. About 70 people attended—an unusually high turnout for a public workshop.
“At PG&E, we are focused on becoming the nation’s safest and most reliable gas and electric utility. At the same time, we are highly mindful of the need to keep our services affordable for our customers,” said PG&E Spokesperson Jeff Smith. “Our proposal in this case serves both goals.”
Smith said the modernization plans include installation of “smart grid” circuits to limit electrical outages, deployment of state-of-the-art equipment to detect gas leaks, and improved staffing of call centers to reduce customer wait times.
He added that the new spending will support an estimated 39,000 jobs with a total economic impact of $9 billion across the state.
The hearing brought out droves of support for the company, mostly from local small business owners who sang the utility’s praises for its service and philanthropy in the community.
“If it weren’t for PG&E’s leadership and assistance, tomorrow our Santa Maria plant would be closed,” said Jim Becker, owner of Okonite, a local wire and cable manufacturer.
“I don’t look at this as a new charge, I see it as an investment,” said Mike Whiteford, spokesperson for the Home Builders Association.
Not everyone was as pleased with the request, however.
“I don’t know why PG&E feels entitled that the cost of doing business is to be paid for by the ratepayers,” said SLO resident Natalia Merzoyan. “This isn’t the only rate case that’s going to happen. We’re going to have another one in a couple years.”
PG&E insists that the new rates will still fall below the national average. A ruling on the case is expected in the coming months.