PG&E’s utility bills are about to rise in California

Pacific Gas & Electric is preparing to hit customers with a spike in monthly bills in January, an increase that comes amid an unprecedented rise in utility rates for Californians over the past decade.

In the past eight years, average monthly residential bills for combined electricity and gas have jumped by $86.51 — from $154.52 in January 2016 to $241.03 in January 2023, according to data from PG&E obtained by the Chronicle.

And average bills are about to rise even more — by $25 to $31 in January — depending on how state regulators vote Thursday.

Residential electricity prices in California have far outpaced inflation, with electricity prices rising to more than double the national average in the past 10 years. In its latest quarterly report, the California Public Utilities Commission’s public defender’s office said rates rose about 92% for residential customers between January 2014 and September 2023.

“It keeps going up,” said Jeri Groves, a 33-year-old single mother in Bakersfield, whose PG&E electric bill averages about $500 a month. “It’s my biggest stress and my highest bill.” (Bakersfield is located near the southernmost point of PG&E’s service area.)

Utility bills have become a greater burden for PG&E customers like Groves, who works in a Costco food court and has four children ages 9 to 14. Groves said she has tried to reduce her family’s electricity use, but with four children, it’s a challenge.

“It doesn’t seem to matter what I’m trying to do, like not turn on the air conditioning, it’s still too loud,” Groves said.

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Historically, utility rates have generally kept pace with inflation, but that began to change in 2013, according to the CPUC. Catastrophic wildfires have driven up costs for PG&E and its customers since 2021.

PG&E is permitted to recover certain operating and capital expenditure costs from its customers, including major wildfire prevention and response projects. To date, some of the largest wildfire-related expenses passed on to customers have been tree trimming programs and wildfire liability insurance coverage, according to the CPUC.

PG&E has reduced its vegetation management program as part of the company’s efforts to reduce costs. But with its new budget, PG&E is preparing to spend billions of dollars to strengthen thousands of miles of power lines in areas where wildfire risk is high by either burying power lines or insulating bare wires.

State regulators on Thursday will decide how much PG&E can spend on these and other programs.

PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said a spike in interest rates in 2024 should be an anomaly, and PG&E expects to keep future rate increases “at or below” the rate of inflation. She said the company is trying to cut costs wherever possible, for example, in 2022, the company reduced operating costs by 3%.

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