Residential solar owners could avoid paying for proposed PG&E rate increase

Many customers and consumer advocates are still reeling from PG&E’s $3.6 billion rate increase, filed last Wednesday, a request that would hit your bill very hard. And, it could set off a major political battle between those residential customers who do and do have solar. 

A non-partisan energy economist says he knows expect and what some say should be done to make it more fair.

If PG&E hopes gets a record $3.6 billion rate increases, in 2023, your PG&E gas and electric bill will rise $36 a month, climbing to $59 a month in the fourth year. This is a request they are making of the Public Utilities Commission. 

Professor Jam Bushnell, a UC Davis Haas Energy Economist, says PG&E must prove it needs every dime it wants. “The PUC will review whether it’s reasonable and decide how much of that, if any, they are going to allow so, this is sort of the first stage of, call it a negotiation process,” said Professor Bushnell. 

Consumer advocate Mark Toney of the The Utility Reform Network says “There is no way they’re gonna get $3.6 billion, but the audacity for asking for such a large increase.”

But, the electric grid, a huge piece of essential infrastructure, needs lots of crucial upgrades. 

Federal greenhouse gas reduction goals are expensive. And, much of the money will go to reducing wildfire risks going forward. 

“When you combine that with the worsening drought conditions, increase heatwaves, the risk of fires are just so much higher now than even a decade ago,” said Professor Jim Bushnell/UC Davis Haas Energy Economist.

A big part of those eye popping rate increases are because more than a half million Californians have become more energy self-sufficient. 

“Households like those with rooftop solar generally do not pay very much for those infrastructure costs and that’s just because of the way our rates are designed in California,” said Bushnell.

So, some experts say, solar rooftop owners may lose some saving advantages to make things more fair for the many non-solar folks. 

“Whether, for example, households with solar power on the roofs should be paying their fair share of these wildfire mitigation expenses. This is an opportunity for the PUC to reconsider aspects of a monthly fixed charge that would distribute those kind of costs across all households,” said Bushnell. 

That could mean adding a monthly charge on solar users’ bills; something being considered by the CPUC even now.

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