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PG&E rate hike takes effect this month

Residential Pacific Gas & Electric Co. customers should expect to see higher bills starting this month, as the utility seeks to shore up its infrastructure and repair equipment damaged by wildfires.

Customers with both electrical and gas service will pay an average of $5.15 extra per month beginning Jan. 1, as electricity rates rise and gas prices fall slightly, PG&E spokesperson Paul Doherty said.

A household that uses 500 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month will pay $6.13 more a month for electricity. That increase will be partly offset by a decrease in gas rates in the new year, resulting in an average of 98 cents in savings monthly, Doherty said.

“This reflects the changing costs of providing electricity to our customers,” Doherty said. “These are changes that are important to fund safety investments and past and planned work (that was) done to make sure we can provide our customers safe and reliable clean energy.“

The changes should result in an overall increase average monthly bills, from $181.52 at the end of 2020 to $186.67 at the start of 2021, he said.

The increases for residential customers were sought in the utility’s December 2018 request to the California Public Utilities Commission to raise customers’ rates. They follow increases in 2019 of $3.07 a month to electrical bills and $1.73 to natural gas bills, an increase the utility said at the time was guided by similar factors.

The rate hike was intended to help pay for costs related to maintaining gas infrastructure, an enhanced power line inspection program and hardening for its electrical system, among other upgrades, Doherty said. They also will help cover the costs of PG&E’s energy efficiency efforts and programs that give discounts to low-income customers.

Electrical equipment owned by PG&E and other utilities has been linked to a string of catastrophic wildfires around the state since 2017, including the Atlas and Nuns fires in Napa and Sonoma, the deadly Camp fire that destroyed the town of Paradise in Butte County in 2018, and the massive Kincade fire east of Windsor in 2019. An explosion of a PG&E natural gas pipeline in San Bruno killed eight people in 2010, and PG&E was found guilty of six felonies for failing to properly maintain the equipment responsible for the blast.

William Alsup, the federal judge overseeing PG&E’s probation in the San Bruno incident, has repeatedly faulted the utility’s safety and maintenance record, calling it “criminal” and demanding a higher level of maintenance and inspection.

The rate hike will also cover expenses for repairs to electrical lines damaged in the aftermath of catastrophic wildfires since 2017, said Doherty, the PG&E spokesperson. Repairs from 2017’s Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa are not covered by the rate increase, Doherty said.

Liabilities related to wildfires caused by PG&E equipment forced the utility into bankruptcy in 2019. It emerged last year after reaching a settlement to pay $13.5 billion to wildfire survivors. The combined payout to the city of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County, including attorney fees, was just over $300 million.

None of the money from the increased rates will be used to pay for legal settlements, Doherty said.

This article includes information from the Sacramento Bee.

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