Several Manteca residents were beside themselves when their January bills nearly doubled over December bills.
The most obvious culprit is PG&E’s tiered rates that slam consumers hard during extended cold snaps or long periods of excessive heat. That is what happened to many people during December.
Natural gas, the least expensive method of heating a home, typically costs roughly 25 percent more once a customer exceeds baseline use levels that are different for various climate zones within PG&E territory.
Electricity is a more expensive way to keep from freezing to death which doesn’t explain why social justice activists are demanding Sacramento to eventually outlaw the use of significantly lower cost natural gas based on per BTU energy unit to heat homes and household water — more about that later.
Electricity use has two tiers with an asterisk. The baseline amount is the lowest per kilowatt usage. Tier 2 which represents use between 101 percent and 400 percent beyond baseline use triggers a per kilowatt charge that is roughly a third higher.
Then there is the high use surcharge for electricity consumption that’s more than 400 percent of base. The charge per kilowatt is just under 50 percent more than one’s initial Tier I usage.
This is all in the name of energy conservation.
Aside from issues that might be tied to how a household is using energy, there are plenty of factors fueling higher PG&E bills.
It would be a bit flippant — and absolutely correct — to point out there’s a big cost factor when a company is tagged for triggering 30 plus wildfires, destroying more than 20,000 homes, and contributing to the deaths of more than 100 customers. And that’s just in the last four years.
But to be honest, it is more than just the Eron-inspired era at PG&E that triggered two bankruptcies and fanned the culture that led to lapses contributing to wildfire related issues.
For the record, PG&E as of Tuesday is no longer on federal criminal probation for its severe lapses of judgment stemming from the 2006 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion that leveled a neighborhood and killed six people.
And they are still dealing with the optics of admitting to 84 counts of manslaughter stemming from the 2018 Paradise inferno.
All of that has a direct impact on the cost of PG&E doing business.
That said there are other factors that give Northern Californians stratospheric energy prices compared to the rest of the nation that can be laid at the feet of Sacramento politicians.
Due to a state edict requiring utilities to have a percentage of their electricity generation portfolio in renewables, PG&E entered into long-term green energy contracts.
They are contracts that are now forcing them to buy electricity from the renewable sources at a locked in price that is substantially higher than the current market rate. Hindsight is 20-20. At the time PG&E secured renewable energy contracts the prices were heading upward.
Then there are costs that many PG&E customers are shouldering from another Sacramento initiative foisted on PG&E and other power providers in the form of subsidies designed to encourage homeowners to install residential solar.
This is not the fault of your neighbors that took advantage of the program the state required and imposed on public utilities. They were only trying to do what we are want which is to reduce which PG&E’s piranha-style feeding frenzy on our household budgets.
The way Sacramento dictated the solar deal was that PG&E has to “buy” excess power back from those with residential solar when certain conditions were met. The electricity PG&E is required to purchase is a lot higher than the market rate.
As more and more people installed solar taking advantage of the state’s solar tax credit, the more expensive “buy back” power PG&E has been forced to purchase even if they didn’t need it. Keep in mind PG&E simultaneously has been required to substantially expand its own solar power portfolio which has led to an abundance of excess electricity at the wrong time of the day that created an entirely different set of issues.
That has made the cost of the forced buyback program more prevalent. These costs are not eaten by PG&E which is assured a base return — call it profit — of more than 10 percent by the State of California, The costs are passed on to customers.
This is the good news.
The bad news is yet to come.
PG&E needs billions to address issues that contribute it to being on Smokey the Bear’s Most Wanted List and being in the crosshairs of district attorneys and class action lawyers from the wine country to the Sierra. Among them is a moonshot endeavor to underground wires on such a scale and in challenging locations that they’d make the architects of the Marshall Plan faint.
This will result in PG&E bills reaching perennial nosebleed heights.
That however constitutes peanuts compared to edicts pouring out of Sacramento.
The assault on your ability to stay warm or cool and power the luxuries of modern life such as water heaters, stoves, refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, TVs, and the various tech gadgets around the house not to mention the cars you will be forced to drive as gas powered cars start dying off after 2035 in California is just beginning.
The push is on to force the abandonment of natural gas by those out to eliminate anything remotely connected to the climate change doomsday scenario du jour. It doesn’t matter if the bottom line impact is negligible in climate change modeling compared to the social cost of families that don’t haul in six figures a year to stay warm or cool and being able to function in a modern society.
Sacramento’s will is paramount.
And no matter how you slice and dice you will look fondly back at your January 2022 PG&E bill in the not-too-distance future the way that some people reminisce about spending a dime to buy a cup of coffee.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at email@example.com