Sonora, CA – With potential PG&E rate hikes already looming related to wildfire liabilities and lawsuits, on Thursday, the company asked state utility regulators for large increases in monthly electricity and gas bills.
The proposed increases surround two separate rate requests to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Thursday. One is PG&E’s general rate case that is submitted every three years. The other involves cost related the shutdown of the aging Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant in San Luis Obispo County.
The impact for the Mother Lode customers would be a $10.71 monthly increase. That includes a 7.7 percent or $8.73 surge with an added $1.98 charge for a period of six years to pay for the plant closing. If state regulators approve both increases, the average monthly bill of $113.64 would increase to $124.35.
Consumer groups call the hike “alarming” and charge that “PG&E is asking for a bailout.”
PG&E Senior Vice President of Energy Supply and Policy Steve Malnight countered, “As California experiences more frequent and intense wildfires and other extreme weather events, we must take necessary, bold and urgent steps to protect our customers. The prudent investments we are proposing will help build a safer and more resilient energy system for the future.”
To support its general rate request, the San Francisco-based notes that more than half of the proposed increase would be directly related to wildfire prevention, risk reduction, and additional safety enhancements with nearly $5 billion, including about $3 billion for capital expenditures, between 2018 and 2022 that would support community wildfire safety program measures. The utility provided these components of its expanded safety program:
- Installing stronger and more resilient poles and covered power lines across 2,000 miles of high fire-risk areas;
- Increasing ongoing work to keep power lines clear of branches from an estimated 120 million trees with the potential to grow or fall into overhead power lines, including annual vegetation inspection of approximately 81,000 miles of high-voltage electric distribution lines;
- Implementing SmartMeter™ technology to more quickly identify and respond to fallen power lines;
- Expanding the network of weather stations to enhance weather forecasting and modeling by adding 1,300 new weather stations in high fire-risk areas by 2022; and
- Installing nearly 600 new high-definition cameras in high fire-threat areas, increasing coverage across these areas to more than 90 percent.
The company also notes in its filing that “This proposal does not request funding for potential lawsuits or claims resulting from the 2017 and 2018 Northern California wildfires, the largest of which are still under investigation.” This leaves the door open for a separate proposal for its wildfire-related liabilities stemming from the Wine Country fires last year and the deadly Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise.
The next step will be for CPUC to hold public hearings next year regarding the hikes, according to PG&E. The commission must then approve, modify or reject the utility’s proposals.