CA Utility Wants Customers to Pay $3.6B Annually for Wildfire Safety; Would Increase Customers’ Bills Average $436/Year

By B.N. Frank

California wildfires have been blamed on Climate Change, poor forest management, downed power lines, and increasing levels of Electromagnetic Radiation making trees and plants more fire prone (see 1, 2).

Earlier this year, Southern California Edison paid $2.2B to settle insurance claims for a 2018 wildfire.  More recently, beleaguered Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) proposed to increase customers’ rates to pay for wildfire safety.  I guess it never hurts to ask.

From Environmental Working Group:

PG&E wants customers to pay $3.6 billion more a year for wildfire safety

EWG: Shareholders, not ratepayers, should shoulder costs of upgrading utility’s hazardous grid

SAN FRANCISCO – Pacific Gas and Electric, or PG&E, on Wednesday asked state regulators to approve a $3.6 billion rate hike on its roughly 16 million customers to fund measures aimed at reducing deadly wildfires like those caused by its unmaintained transmission lines. The change would leave ratepayers with an unfair $436 average annual increase in their energy bills.

PG&E has told the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC, that the rate hike would pay the cost of burying more power lines, removing dead, dying and diseased trees that could fall onto above-ground transmission lines, and expanding gas pipelines. But PG&E should pay these costs – and drop its ongoing efforts to make it harder for solar power to join the grid as a vital resource for fighting the climate crisis.

The Environmental Working Group said the outrageous request points up the unfairness of the state-sanctioned monopoly utility model, which pushes costs onto customers, not PG&E’s investor-owners.

“The enormous rate hike PG&E has requested will most hurt middle- and low-income families, many of whom are already struggling to stay afloat,” said Environmental Working Group President and Bay Area resident Ken Cook. “The utility and its shareholders should shoulder the costs of these safety measures, considering it was the company’s own reckless negligence that was responsible for the recent deadly fires that killed scores of people and damaged and destroyed property.”

The 2018 Camp Fire, caused by unmaintained PG&E transmission lines, killed scores of people and destroyed the town of Paradise. The company ultimately pled guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter for the deaths of those who died because of the fire.

PG&E is joining forces with two other investor-owned utilities, Southern California Edison and San Diego Power & Light, to push the CPUC to quash the state’s popular rooftop solar program, often referred to as Net Energy Metering, or NEM.

NEM has benefited millions of homeowners and businesses across the state by paying them for excess energy their solar panels send back to the grid. The scheme by the big three utilities under consideration by the CPUC would largely end net metering and let them pocket much of the money, rather than sending it to ratepayers.

Crushing rooftop solar has implications for future wildfires

The only concrete way to prevent future wildfires caused by these large utilities is to reform the current model of centralized electricity distribution that sends energy hundreds of miles through the dry, drought-ridden central and Northern California landscape covered in brush that fuels these fires.

Locally generated and distributed renewable electricity, primarily from solar, would dramatically reduce rolling blackouts initiated by utilities to prevent fires that are often triggered by power lines traversing the state.

In 2018, the California Independent System Operator, which coordinates access to transmission lines and manages a range of energy resources, canceled 18 transmission projects and 21 revisions of other projects, avoiding $2.6 billion in future costs. It cited customer investments in solar and energy efficiency as the reason.

EWG is a party to the PUC’s proceeding on the utility’s scheme to gut rooftop solar. In testimony submitted on June 18 to the CPUC in the rooftop solar fight, Cook urged the commission to seriously consider scrapping the current monopoly business model that will only increase the threat of wildfires, as well as delay utilities’ commitment to lowering carbon emissions to combat the climate crisis.

Speaking of fires – over the years, there have also been reports about PG&E’s electric “Smart” Meters catching fire and exploding.  We may never know if or how much the company’s sometimes-combustible “Smart” Meters have contributed to the state’s wildfires.  Perhaps someday Environmental Working Group will decide to investigate that as well as other utility “Smart” Meter fires and explosions (see 1, 2, 3).  There are plenty to choose from.

Opposition to all utility “Smart” Meters – electric, gas, and water – is worldwide.  Free online documentary – Take Back Your Power – exposes more reprehensible details about these dangerous devices.  Some utility companies offer “opt out” programs because of all the complaints and lawsuits.

Activist Post reports regularly about “Smart” Meters and other unsafe technology.  For more information, visit our archives and the following websites:

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