Customer Confusion with PG&E Rate Hikes
By Woody Hastings
Wondering why your energy bill has gone up recently? It is not because of Sonoma Clean Power. In some cases, the spike is due to increased seasonal use of gas or electricity for space heating. Any increases on the gas side of the bill have nothing to do with Sonoma Clean Power because it is involved only in electricity generation.
PG&E bills were already confusing, even before Sonoma Clean Power generation charges replaced PG&E generation charges on the bill. Many customers assume that a simple comparison of last year’s whole bill to this year’s whole bill will tell them whether Sonoma Clean Power has saved them money. But this is not the case.
To get a true picture of Sonoma Clean Power’s impact on the PG&E bill, customers must distinguish generation from transmission and distribution or delivery charges. Delivery charges make up a little more than half of a typical residential bill. Sonoma Clean Power does not affect delivery charges. PG&E remains in full control of the delivery system ownership, maintenance, rate-setting, and billing. PG&E adjusts these rates frequently, almost always upward, and yes, they went up in January.
Only generation charges fall under the authority of Sonoma Clean Power. Rates of all four Community Choice agencies established in PG&E territory, including Sonoma Clean Power, have nearly always been lower than PG&E’s.
To make an accurate “apples to apples” comparison between PG&E and Sonoma Clean Power, customers must compare only the generation rate that the utility continues to charge for its bundled customers (customers who receive both delivery plus generation from PG&E) to the rate Sonoma Clean Power bills customers.
Below is a portion of a rate comparison card from 2016 for Sonoma Clean Power customers in the basic and very common E-1 residential rate category. These rate comparison cards are required by law to be published at least once per year jointly by both the utility and the Community Choice agency. Having both entities stand behind the rate comparison guarantees the comparison’s accuracy.
The left column shows the description of the three main charges generation, delivery (T&D), and the PCIA and Franchise Fee. Column two shows PG&E’s charges, and the two columns on the right show the basic, default “CleanStart” program at slightly lower than PG&E and the premium, 100% renewable opt-up “EverGreen” program at a slightly higher rate.
On average, PG&E’s electric rates have risen about 4% per year for over thirty years. Community Choice agencies are breaking that trend. For example, in early 2015 when Sonoma Clean Power went through its first annual rate-setting process, the agency chose to leave its rates unchanged from the level they were at launch, and it chose in early 2016 to lower its rate for EverGreen customers. Early this year Sonoma Clean Power once again lowered its rates, this time for CleanStart customers. With ever-increasing amounts of “fuel-free” power (solar, wind, hydro, etc.), generation costs for agencies that emphasize these cleaner, decentralized, smarter energy sources can be expected to trend downward
If you think something is amiss with your Sonoma Clean Power rates, call them - (855) 202-2139. Sonoma Clean Power is our local, not-for-profit agency, established to serve us.