Power bills for approximately 16 million residents in Northern California are expected to see an uptick following the release of two rate proposals by state regulators for one of the nation’s largest utility companies, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), on Wednesday.
The California Public Utilities Commission is in the final stages of its once-every-four-years assessment of PG&E, a utility based in Oakland that serves a vast 70,000-square-mile (181,000-square-kilometer) region in the northern and central parts of the state with electric and gas services. The commission’s role is to approve the rates PG&E can charge its customers and how those funds will be allocated.
The commission did not provide specific details on the projected increase for the average residential customer. However, it is anticipated to be significantly less than what PG&E had initially requested. PG&E had sought rate increases substantial enough to boost its revenue by 26%, but the two proposals put forth by the commission would cap revenue increases at a maximum of 13%.
One of the primary reasons for PG&E’s request for additional revenue was to fund a plan to bury approximately 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers) of power lines as a measure to mitigate the risk of wildfires. The burial of power lines is a costly and time-consuming endeavor, but PG&E contends that it is the most effective way to reduce the likelihood of power lines being knocked down by strong winds and igniting wildfires, such as the devastating 2018 Camp Fire that claimed 85 lives and destroyed countless homes.
The Utility Reform Network, an advocacy group representing ratepayers, has argued that a faster and more cost-effective approach to wildfire risk reduction is to insulate power lines rather than bury them.
It seems that the commission is leaning towards this perspective, as both of its proposed rate increases would only allocate funding to bury less than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) of power lines.
The issue of PG&E’s rates has been under consideration for over two years, with a decision delayed last year due to the company’s modifications to its initial application, including the request to bury power lines and the subsequent adjustment of its rate request due to factors like inflation and taxes.
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