PG&E causes controversy with new pricing announcement

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Alexandria Bruschi/Staff

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The Pacific Gas and Electric Company is under fire from state legislatures after announcing a plan to change the pricing of its gas and electricity services.

In a press release sent Monday, PG&E described the rate change as a way to “modernize and simplify California’s electric rate system.” The plan calls for reducing the number of tiers used for charging customers from three to two tiers. Additionally, the plan introduces a high-use surcharge to customers who use more than four times the baseline amount of electricity in an effort to encourage energy conservation.

These changes were developed with the California Public Utilities Commission, according to the release. PG&E has made a number of rate increases between December 2015 and December 2016 to support critical safety and reliability investments, according to PG&E spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian.

“We understand that higher than expected bills are frustrating,”  Sarkissian said. “We want our customers to know that we are here to help them manage their energy costs.”

In a statement released by the office of state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, Hill voiced concerns about rate changes based on an investigative report carried out by his staff.

“The research showed that the most vulnerable are being hit the hardest at a time when they need heating the most,” Hill said in the statement. “PG&E and the Public Utilities Commission need to prioritize customer heating needs in a way I have not yet seen.”

Hill recommended that PG&E and the CPUC fix PG&E’s new rate structure and evaluate the ways in which they help customers know when their usage climbs in order to make changes before the next billing cycle.

In comments issued by the CPUC after the release was sent, the commission said it appreciates the report made by Hill, adding that the CPUC has been reviewing components of the changes and have recommendations similar to those made in Hill’s report.

“The CPUC is committed to ensuring that the utilities educate customers on the available tools and the need to make sure vulnerable customers are not left behind,” the commission said.

Contact Kate Tinney at [email protected].