The California Public Utilities Commission, a tool of the energy industries, is scheming with PG&E so stick it to rural ratepayers who have been victimized by the recent fires in Northern California.
Michael Picker, president of the PUC, floated the idea during a Jan. 31 meeting on fire safety for utility companies. With more Californians moving into rural areas prone to fires, he questioned the fairness of forcing all utility customers to pay the costs of preventing rural wildfires sparked by utility lines.
“Should we actually start to charge differentially for the use of the distribution system for those sections that are in the high-fire-hazard zone and people who choose to live there?” Picker said.
So your house burns down due to PG&E negligence and the PUC raises your electric rates.
While it wasn’t a formal proposal, Picker said in a follow-up interview that it’s an idea worth discussing. As last fall’s deadly, wind-driven blazes in both Northern and Southern California showed, the state now faces the threat of wildfires even at times of year once considered safe. And Californians are increasingly moving into harm’s way.
“As we spend more to harden the grid and protect people in those high-risk areas, how do we pay for it?” Picker said in the interview. “If you’re in Richmond, do you want to be paying to protect vacation homes in Napa?”
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that state investigators have yet to pinpoint the causes of last year’s fires. However, power lines tossed about by harsh winds are considered a likely culprit. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. even admitted finding damaged equipment near the suspected ignition points of the four biggest North Bay fires. The night the fires began, Sonoma County emergency dispatchers received reports of downed or sparking power lines, blown transformers or other concerns with PG&E’s equipment from more than 50 locations.
The idea of basing rates on the risks associated with a particular location is common among insurance companies.
Electricity rates don’t work that way. A spokeswoman for a national association of utility regulators said her group didn’t know of any utility with different rates for urban versus rural customers. Someone building a home in the hinterlands will typically pay more to start service than will a new home owner in a town or city, particularly if the rural home sits at a distance from existing power lines. But the monthly rates will be the same.