In November, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) passed a unanimous vote to increase electric and natural gas rates for California's Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) customers by roughly 13 percent.
These increased prices will come into effect beginning January 1, 2024, with customers receiving their first increased bill at the start of February next year.
For the average PG&E customer, these increases will look like approximately $32.50 in additional fees attached to their monthly utility expenses — a cost that totals around $400 annually.
It's an unwelcome increase for homeowners and renters, many of whom are already concerned about unaffordable utility rates.
It's a worry that the CPUC has shared, having declined PG&E's initial request to increase revenue by 17.9 percent, coming back with the revised and now approved proposal that drops these increases by 5.1 percent to 12.8.
"We as a commission have struggled mightily with the additional hardship these increases will create for families," CPUC Commissioner John Reynolds shares, but with this new proposal, "I can say that I am confident that you are getting something out of this investment."
But what are the benefits that the public is receiving as a result of these rate hikes? In short, it comes down to wildfires.
According to the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), the areas affected by wildfires in northern and central California have increased five times more between 1996 and 2021 than they did between 1971 and 1995 — with five of the biggest wildfires California has ever seen occurring in 2020 alone.
It's a massive increase in burn areas, and it has an impact not only on our environment and socioeconomic systems (like where we live and our ability to work) but also on our health, as poor air quality can create heightened respiratory risks, especially in elderly, pregnant, young and low-income populations as well as those with pre-existing health conditions.
And one of the factors that can cause a wildfire to begin? Electrical equipment. This is where those rate increases come in.
One of the most effective ways to prevent electrical systems from causing a wildfire is to bury the cables and wires. This move to bury equipment means that electrical wiring is stored safely underground during big storms or other severe weather events, eliminating the risks of severed lines and wooden poles sparking up and triggering a blaze.
But to move these power lines underground? Well, that costs quite a bit of money.
That's why, under the new proposal for PG&E's 2024 rate increases, the additional funding provided by ratepayers will be focused on helping bury 1,230 miles (or 1,979 kilometers) of electrical lines — a move that will effectively reduce the company's wildfire risk by 94 percent!
It's a considerable cost, but the benefit is significant too, and reducing wildfire risk is a huge step towards keeping Californians safe and secure for many years to come.
Benefits aside, though, an increase in cost is still an increase in cost, and finding ways to save on electrical spending will likely become increasingly important for California residents moving forward.
So, what can you do? The good news is there are a few programs designed to help — here are three we think are worth noting.
The California Alternate Rates for Energy Program provides a 30-35 percent discount on electrical costs and a 20 percent discount on natural gas bills for income-qualifying households.
To be eligible, your household must fall within the income guidelines outlined by the CPUC. You can find the current income requirements documented in the chart below.
If your household qualifies to participate in the CARE program, you can apply as a PG&E customer through the following link.
The Family Electric Rate Assistance Program (FERA) similarly offers discounts on electric bills and is designed for households that exceed the allowances put in place by CARE.
Qualifying households for California's FERA program can receive a total discount of 18 percent on their monthly utility expenses. The current income guidelines for the FERA program can be found in the following chart.
If your household qualifies for the FERA program, you can find out more and submit your application through PG&E's website here.
And, of course, we couldn't finish this breakdown without mentioning OhmConnect because who doesn't want to save money *and* get rewarded at the same time? Here's how our free program works to help Californians cut back on consumption and save.
It's called demand response, a system that helps support utility providers (like PG&E) when heightened demand is causing strain on the electrical grid.
During these peak times (which also happen to be the times when electricity is most expensive), OhmConnect members will receive a text or email notifying them that an energy-saving event is about to begin, providing them with the opportunity to power down and save.
The advantage is three-fold.
You save money on your monthly electrical bill by powering down some or all of your devices during pricey, peak hours — plus we’ll take the energy you save and sell it back to the grid, sharing those profits directly with you.
By cutting back on consumption when the grid is under strain, you help utilities avoid relying on “peaker plants”, (supplementary electrical plants that produce more CO2 and cost more to run), which is a major win for the environment.
And, by participating in these energy-saving events (we call them OhmHours), you can earn points (also known as Watts) to put towards awesome rewards, like fun prizes, charitable donations, and cash right back in your wallet!
If you're not already an OhmConnect member, what are you waiting for? Signing up is quick and easy! Get started through the following link.