Electric bill down for low-income ratepayers

The Associated Press
Friday June 08, 2001

Low-income ratepayers of California’s public utilities will save 5 percent more on their electric bills, state power regulators ordered Thursday. 

The Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously to expand the low-income discount from 15 percent to 20 percent. Commissioner Carl Wood said the savings would help ease the financial worries of the state’s poorest ratepayers. 

“It is critical that we act to provide relief to these most vulnerable customers,” Wood said. The extra discount will cover customers of Pacific Gas and Electric Co., San Diego Gas and Electric Co., Southern California Edison Co. and Southern California Gas. 

The PUC delayed action on a proposal to order the state’s two largest utilities to pay 15 percent of the more than $1 billion they owe small power plants throughout the state for past electricity deliveries. 

Money previously allocated by the Legislature to help low-income users would cover the cost of expanding the discount through the year, said Paul Clanon, executive director of the PUC’s energy division. 

To get the discount, low-income ratepayers usually have to apply by mail to the California Alternate Rates on Energy program. Many of those eligible haven’t signed up, and Wood and PUC President Loretta Lynch are looking at creating an automatic enrollment system. 

The PUC also approved a request from San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and San Diego County to have SDG&E pay businesses to lower the state’s electricity demand by using diesel generators during power emergencies. 

The PUC lowered the payment from a proposed 35 cents per kilowatt hour saved to 20 cents per kilowatt hour. Those customers already avoid paying for electricity by running generators during those times, the PUC said. 

San Diego County representatives countered that it costs thousands to rent, buy and fuel generators, and say they are being good citizens by finding alternative solutions. 

The money to fund the program will come out of SDG&E rates, said Paul Clanon, director of the PUC’s energy division. 

Utilities also use money raised from rates to fund similar programs which “interrupt” businesses with blackouts in exchange for cheaper electricity or a promise to knock out power only for certain lengths of time. 

But financially troubled PG&E and Edison warn they’ll be overwhelmed by the cost of new interruptible programs recently approved the PUC. Clanon said both utilities filed last month for emergency surcharges to power bills, saying regular rates were not enough to cover all their costs. 

The PUC chose not to act on a proposal from Lynch that would have paid small power plants 15 percent of overdue bills owed to them by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Southern California Edison Co. These plants produce up to a third of the state’s electricity supply. 

After the meeting, Lynch said she delayed action on the plan because of ongoing discussions between Edison and its power plants, as well as Friday’s decision by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali to order PG&E to free their plants from contracts or start paying off the millions it owes them for past power deliveries. 

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