At a packed public hearing at Al Bahr Shrine Center in Kearny Mesa this afternoon (Sept. 16), utility ratepayers showed up to slam or support San Diego Gas & Electric's (SDG&E's) plan to raise rates of low residential electric users and lower rates of large users — generally, a blow for poorer people and a boost for richer ones.
The meeting, called by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), was held in a small room, and about 100 people attended, according to Pete Hasapopoulos, who was there representing the Sierra Club, which opposes the proposal.
Hasapopoulos says about 80 percent of the people opposed SDG&E's plan to boost its profits, and applause was generally louder when generated by opponents. However, he says, there were people now paying high electric rates who spoke in favor of the SDG&E proposal. They want their bills reduced. Also, chambers of commerce from Escondido, National City, and Vista were there to support the utility, as were some nonprofits that get donations from the company. Representatives of the solar energy industry, as well as groups such as the Sierra Club, were there to oppose the measure.
The proposal, if enacted, is certain to harm households that have installed rooftop solar or are taking moves to cut down utility usage sharply.
Utilities fatten their bottom lines by building facilities that often use fossil fuels, such as coal or gas. Utilities estimate how much they will charge customers to finance these mostly-polluting power plants, and go to the CPUC, asking for a high rate of return. They normally get it. The more infrastructure the utilities build, the more their profits. But rooftop solar interferes with this source of profits. The utilities get less revenue, and because of California's net metering arrangement, household meters run backward when the sun is shining, providing power to the grid.
Yesterday, the CPUC got a serious setback, as emails between the regulator and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) showed that the commission has been blatantly favoring PG&E as the Bay Area utility fights to pay a lower penalty for its role in the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed eight people. The CPUC's chief of staff resigned and Michael Peevey, the president, recused himself from the PG&E hearings. PG&E fired three officials. As a result, the agency might not be so bold in pressing for still another measure that will fatten utility profits. On the other hand, it's possible the CPUC hasn't been chastened.