Local Clean Energy Alliance Presents: What’s Up with Utility Bills?

On August 10th, Local Clean Energy Alliance presented “What’s Up with Utility Bills”, the latest in a series of educational events. Inviting attendees to “learn how to read, understand, and take control of your utility bill,” presenters Kirsten Andrews-Schwind from Peninsula Clean Energy, and Mark Toney from TURN (The Utility Reform Network) did an excellent job delivering on that guarantee, and stimulated interesting discussions with the attendees in the process.

Kirsten Andrews-Schwind began by helping audience members go through two example PG&E bills from 2016 and 2017, explaining the bills page by page and item by item. She used bills from two years to show the difference when the customer gets electrical service from a Community Choice program, as will soon be the case for most customers in Alameda County. The line item by line item approach was helpful in understanding how the rates are determined, and how that determination has changed because the rate tier structure has changed in the last year. The process also pointed out items in the bill that are not clearly spelled out for consumers, and therefore very difficult to fully understand.

As Executive Director of TURN, the utility watchdog organization working to protect consumers’ interests, Mark Toney explained why utility rates are going up and what, if anything, we can do about it. He first explained how going from four electric usage tiers to two, means that customers who use little electricity will see significant increases in their bills because rates for lower end users increased, while those who use a lot of electricity will see bills decrease as rates for higher end users declined. He also gave us a preview of what to expect once time of use rates go into effect. Unfortunately, for most working people, it will mean another increase in utility bills, given that the highest rate is proposed for 5-9pm, when most families use the most electricity.

Mark led a lively discussion on what is being done to address the issue of the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment, commonly known as the PCIA or ‘exit fees’. This charge levied on Community Choice customers to compensate PG&E for energy that is contracted for, but no longer being used by those customers. As more and more electrical customers in California leave monopoly utilities for public, not-for-profit Community Choice programs, this charge threatens to become prohibitive for the public option. The private utilities claim that the PCIA is necessary in order to keep from shifting the cost of unused contracts to their remaining customers, and Mark reminded the audience that TURN’s role is to protect all utility customers. But he acknowledged that the process around determining the PCIA is flawed and threatens Community Choice. In general, Mark Toney encouraged the audience, particularly Community Choice energy advocates, to get involved with TURN and their advocacy for consumer protection.