California Public Utilities Commission to hold public hearings in Fontana on September 29

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Sierra Club My Generation Campaign organizer Yassamin Kavezade. Photo: Mel W. Wang.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will be holding two public participation hearings on Monday September 29 at Fontana city hall at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. that will allow Southern California Edison customers to discuss several proposed changes in electricity rates. CPUC officials have said that they will consider public input before making a decision. The state’s electric utility companies created rate reform proposals earlier this year to meet the goals of Assembly Bill 327.

The Ratepayer Equity Act, which was passed in the state legislature last year and became effective as of January, enabled the CPUC to consider changes that will affect the way utility companies charge their customers for electricity. The law has allowed utility companies to spread costs across residential energy users.

Southern California Edison customers are already feeling the burden as a result of a hike that took effect in July. The company raised residential electricity rates across the board, with average energy users seeing their bills increase by 8 percent. The July rate hike, which hit below-average users harder than it hit above-average users, who traditionally pay higher rates — could be a sign that SoCal Edison plans on more rate restructuring.

The CPUC estimated back in August that three-quarters of Edison customers will see their monthly costs increase by more than $5, while a third of customers will pay at least $10 more per month. In addition, separate rate changes will affect customers enrolled in the California Alternate Rates for Energy program. Forty percent of these customers will see their energy bills go up more than $5 per month, although most of these customers will face an increase no greater than $10 per month.

So Cal Edison’s restructuring plan will cut California’s current tier structure from four tiers to two. The Tier 1 electricity rate would increase an additional 8.7 percent, meaning customers will pay an additional 16.2 cents per kilowatt-hour by 2018. The current tiers 2, 3, and 4 would be meshed into a single tier that will be billed at 19.5 cents per kilowatt-hour by 2018.

Edison and other big utility companies have justified their proposals by explaining that they will provide more equity among consumers. Edison went as far as to criticize the current four tier system.

“There is no cost basis for rate differentials of this magnitude and they produce uneconomic outcomes,” the company wrote in the filing. “SCE estimates that there is currently an annual subsidy of over $600 million paid by higher-usage to lower-usage residential customers.”

Meanwhile, environmental advocates say that the changes will seek to discourage customers from going solar and conserving energy, which in turn will lead to the construction of more dirty power plants and decrease generation of local clean energy, such as the use of rooftop solar.

“We think that ratepayers are already paying their fair share and we should not be creating a billing structure that discourages the strides we have made in local clean energy and energy efficiency,” said Marta Stoepker, the deputy press secretary for the Sierra Club.

Yassamin Kavezade, an organizer with the Sierra Club My Generation Campaign and a student at UC Riverside, believes Inland Empire residents need to recognize the importance of attending these public hearings. Without their input, large utility companies will continue to build “cozy” relationships with CPUC officials, Kavezade said.

“The CPUC is an agency that is supposed to mediate the public voice on matters like energy, but instead has established a cozy relationship with large utilities,” she said. “For example, look into the San Bruno case happening right now with Pacific Gas & Electric. The time for testimony is one of the few ways people can let their voices be heard. People can also become part of the process if the CPUC and utilities decide to listen and do the right thing in order to pave a way for local, clean-renewable energy.”

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