CA - Regulators Delay Decision On Electricity Rate Hikes : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Regulators Delay Decision On Electricity Rate Hikes (AP) --

California ratepayers still don't know how much more they'll owe on next month's electric bills, and consumer activists fear the delay could mean even higher rates for residential customers. Loretta Lynch, President of the Public Utilities Commission, postponed a vote on proposed new rates until Tuesday afternoon, saying she needed more time to review feedback from every type of energy consumer in California.

"What we're doing is fine-tuning and tweaking the proposal," Lynch said after Monday's meeting. "Everybody in California is going to pay more."

In her initial proposal, Lynch would have spared many residential users from the highest bills and placed more of the burden on businesses and farms.

But an outcry from businesses proclaiming that the rate hikes will doom California's economy -- followed by a Sunday statement from Gov. Gray Davis chiding the PUC for not allocating rates evenly over all ratepayers -- has consumer groups wondering if Davis has urged the PUC to shift more of the rate hikes onto residential customers.

"The big industrial customers have been on a lobbying rampage the past several days trying to get more of the increase placed on residential customers," said Mike Florio, senior attorney with The Utility Reform Network.

Steve Maviglio, a Davis spokesman, maintained that the PUC is an independent body. Three of the five commissioners, however, are Davis appointees. Commissioner Jeff Brown said Monday he was looking into lessening the impact on businesses.

Business groups definitely hope the extra day translates into a lighter touch.

"We can only hope that this extra time means that they're carefully evaluating a plan that will perhaps be more balanced and more proportional than what they've put forward so far," said Michelle Montague-Bruno, spokeswoman for the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group that represents 190 busineses.

Commissioner Carl Wood said Tuesday is the latest date the PUC can make its decision and still give Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Southern California Edison Co., the state's two largest utilities, enough time to add the new rates to electric bills by June 1.

Energy experts fear that's already too late for the price shock to spur vital conservation this summer and help stave off some of the 30 days of rolling blackouts predicted by managers of the state power grid.

Lynch's initial proposal raises rates anywhere from 7 percent to 61 percent -- depending on everything from whether the customer manufactures sweatshirts, heats a swimming pool or processes tomatoes. Nearly everyone would feel some pain.

Since it unanimously approved rate hikes March 27, the commission has struggled to fashion rates that will simultaneously recoup the $5.2 billion the state has spent buying power, return the state's largest utilities to solvency and trigger enough conservation to help fend off some of this summer's rolling blackouts.

The allocation the PUC approves will be retroactive to March 27. Charges for interim power use will be spread over the next 12 months, Lynch has said.

Lynch and PUC Administrative Law Judge Christine Walwyn introduced proposals last week that business interests said would unfairly make them pay too much of the overall rate hike -- as much as 50 percent more than they pay now depending what time of day they use the electricity.

Under Lynch's plan, as many as half of PG&E and SoCal Edison's 9 million customers would not see their bills rise at all. She would bill residential customers at several different levels based on how much power they use.

San Diego Gas and Electric Co. customers would not be affected. Neither would ratepayers who buy their electricity directly from energy wholesalers rather than through utilities, such as the state's public university systems.

While state law shields average residential customers from severe rate hikes on much of their power use, businesses would have to pay more for every kilowatt so the state can raise around $5 billion.

That worries small businesses like Spretto, an Oakland restaurant that no longer serves lunch and laid off five workers because of its growing electric bill.

"It's horrendous," said Pamela Drake, a spokeswoman with the Oakland Alliance for Community Energy. "Small businesses operate within a smaller margin, even successful ones, and can't afford to pay anymore."

Consumer activists sporting white jumpsuits emblazoned with the word "Ratebusters" and other members of the public told the PUC to stop taking public comment if it didn't plan to listen and protect residents from rate hikes.

"I was raised to pay my bills and be responsible," said April Lankford of San Francisco. "But I have a right to my own health and safety. That's about hot water. That's about turning on the heat when it gets cold. I am not going to not pay my health insurance just to afford electricity."

-- PHO (, May 15, 2001


PUC Changes Rate Hike Proposal

Resident Rates Could Go Up 47 Percent

SAN FRANCISCO, 4:01 p.m. EDT May 15, 2001 --

California residential ratepayers would pay up to 47 percent more for electricity based on a revised plan from the state's top energy regulator on how to allocate a record rate hike that was approved earlier this spring.

The recommendations, set for a vote later Tuesday, detail how the rate increases approved March 27 should be allocated among residential, industrial, commerical and agricultural customers. The plan by Loretta Lynch, president of the state Public Utilities Commission, was released hours before the PUC was to vote on how to allocate the largest rate hike in state history.

Lynch's recommendations, which will affect about 9 million customers of the state's two largest utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison, were revised versions of a plan she had released last week.

It was not immediately clear from the new document whether proposed rate hikes for commercial customers -- set last week to average as much as 52 percent -- had been reduced. Lynch's office would not comment on the proposal, and calls to the PUC energy division for further explanation were not immediately returned.

The PUC had been scheduled to vote on Lynch's earlier recommendations on Monday, but delayed its decision by a day so Lynch could revise her plan.

After a massive outcry from businesses and a critical statement from Gov. Gray Davis, consumer groups worried that delay would give Lynch time to shift more of the hikes away from commercial customers and onto residential ratepayers.

Lynch's original proposal would have spared many residential users from hikes and placed more of the burden on businesses and farms.

-- PHO (, May 15, 2001.

Just saw on the Bee site

that the PUC finally voted to ding private ratepayers 47 percent, retroactive to March 27, with higher rates based on usage. This will affect customers of PG&E and SoCal Edison. I didn't catch how much businesses and farmers would be charged, but they probably won't be happy either.

-- Margaret J (, May 15, 2001.

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