PG&E demands higher monthly electric bills to put lines underground

PG&E’s monthly bills would rise by about $30 a month under a new utility giant proposal to bury thousands of miles of power lines to ward off the risk of catastrophic wildfires.

Electric utility is seeking state approval for a $10.5 billion revenue boost to bury 3,600 miles of power lines, according to a new PG&E proposal that was outlined in a regulatory filing Monday federal.

Electricity bills could rise $31.41 per month for average residential non-care customers whose bills are not incidental and $20.73 per month for low-income care customers, PG&E estimated Monday.

“PG&E has taken a stand to stop catastrophic wildfires,” said Patti Poppe, CEO of PG&E. “Our 2022 Wildfire Mitigation Plan details the work we are currently doing to make this stand a reality.”

Wildfires burn near a PG&E transmission tower in Butte County, 2019. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

PG&E’s latest proposal to increase monthly bills comes on the heels of an increase to PG&E’s monthly bills on January 1 and the reveal of another increase that is expected to take effect in March.

A consumer group, The Utility Reform Network, harshly criticized PG&E’s proposal.

“PG&E’s eye-popping increases are a punch in the gut for millions of California residents who are suffering economically from the pandemic and struggling to get back on their feet,” said Mark Toney, executive director of TURN.

PG&E plans to bury at least 175 miles of power lines this year, the utility said. PG&E intends to pick up the pace even further to complete about 3,600 miles of lines by 2026. That’s about a third of its overall 10,000-mile landfill program the company announced last summer.

“This is the nation’s largest effort for underground power lines as a wildfire risk reduction measure,” PG&E said.

The higher monthly bills resulting from these power line burial works are expected to occur from 2023 to 2026, PG&E said.

PG&E also released its 2022 wildfire prevention plan, an effort that includes expanding an existing program that cuts power more quickly when a branch or tree hits a power line.

In 2021, the utility introduced a new Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings or EPSS program for short.

“The EPSS program involves changing the settings of electrical equipment so that if an object comes into contact with a distribution line, the power is automatically cut off until we can patrol the line to ensure that there is no risk of ignition,” PG&E said in a PUC filing.

PG&E launched the shutdown program in 2021 on 11,500 miles of distribution circuits in high fire risk areas, which equates to 45% of circuits in such high risk regions. PG&E expands program to 25,500 distribution line miles.

The utility instituted the program after state investigators determined the Dixie Fire, a massive blaze that engulfed parts of Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Shasta and Tehama counties, started after a tree hit a power line that was not de-energized for hours. after the incident.

It could be some time before the full impacts on customer bills are known, as PG&E’s wildfire mitigation plan for 2022 could be part of several general rate cases, PG&E said.

The overall cost of the wildfire mitigation plan is $5.5 billion.

However, it is clear that PG&E customers are being forced to experience significant cost increases that take

On Jan. 1, just weeks ago, the first of at least two rounds of monthly utility bill increases shook PG&E customers.

Here’s how the January bill changes break down for the average PG&E customer, according to rough estimates PG&E provided to this news agency in late December.

The figures compare monthly bills from January 2022 with bills from December 2021: Combined electricity and gas bills in January averaged $221 per month for the typical taxpayer, an increase of $19, or 9.4%, compared to the previous average bill of $202 in December 2021. .

PG&E customers, efficient with their March billing cycles, will face another round of cost increases in the coming weeks.

The average electricity bill of $152 per month is expected to rise $14 to a new total of $166 per month, according to PG&E. That equates to a 9.2% increase, according to PG&E’s calculations.

That means PG&E’s overall monthly bill, electric and gas combined, is expected to average around $235 per month starting in March. This combined monthly total results from the average electric bill of $166 and the average gas bill of $69.

All of this points to a 16.3% increase in the first three months of 2021 for PG&E’s monthly bills compared to the average bills at the end of 2021.

Monthly costs in 2021 for PG&E customers marked the first time the average residential electric and gas bill exceeded $200 per month.

TURN called on the state’s Utilities Commission to find a way to curb the frequent increase in PG&E’s monthly bills.

“The CPUC must protect affordable monthly bills by capping all rate increases at the rate of inflation, or the increase in COLA received each year by people on Social Security,” Toney said.

Bonny J. Streater