Erica Etelson, CALIFORNIA CURRENT
Last month, the California Public Utilities Commission kicked off what is expected to be a long and arduous process of reforming the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment. The PCIA is an ongoing fee that California investor-owned utilities impose on departing ratepayers. That is, those of us who switch to a Community Choice energy program or procure electricity from a Direct Access retailer must pony up money every month to compensate the private utilities for losses associated with stranded contracts they’ve entered (or claim to have entered) on our behalf.
Much to the surprise of community choice customers, the PCIA seems to have achieved immortality. Whereas the operating assumption was that this charge, approved last December, would ramp down and eventually disappear as stranded contracts expire, the opposite has occurred. Pacific Gas & Electric now projects that it will levy this charge on Marin Clean Energy customers until 2043.
The California Alliance for Community Energy is calling for the sun setting of the PCIA within three years of the launch of a community choice program and for the immediate cessation of the PCIA for low-income CARE customers. In our view, no amount of technocratic tinkering under the auspices of an agency as partial to the monopoly utilities as the CPUC will render the PCIA tolerable to community choice programs and their customers.
PG&E will collect an estimated $119 million in PCIA charges from community choice and direct access customers this year, nearly twice as much as last year thanks to the CPUC’s rubber-stamping of PG&E’s calculus. For community choice customers, this amounts to a line item on their monthly bill ranging from $1.00 to $29.00. To stay competitive with the incumbent monopoly utility, community choice agencies must offset their electricity rates by roughly the amount of the PCIA.
This means that community choice programs are losing millions a year in revenue that could otherwise be used for demand reduction and the development of renewable electricity projects.
Read more at: GUEST JUICE: Kryptonite Needed for Community Choice Super Fee | CA Current
PG&E and other big utilities also proposed cutting the amount of compensation that solar homeowners receive for excess electricity that they export to the grid.
The California Public Utilities Commission voted Thursday to allow a nearly 100 percent price increase on exit fees for customers leaving Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for green energy programs like CleanPowerSF and Marin Clean Energy, which will make those and similar programs more expensive.
Many of the programs — where local governments buy green electricity for their residents, while private utilities own and operate the electrical grid — will be undermined financially by the uptick in the charge, called the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment, their officials say.
“We are not surprised that the increase was approved,” said Marin Clean Energy spokeswoman Alexandra McCroskey. “We are disappointed. Our primary frustrations come from the fact that we are becoming almost liable for the market fluctuations for both ourselves and PG&E. If PG&E isn’t planning appropriately for people leaving for community choice aggregation programs, the PCIA will continue to increase. It’s poor planning.”
Read more at: Customers of clean energy programs hit with fee increase – SFGate
Woody Hastings, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Nearly 90 percent of Sonoma County Pacific Gas & Electric customers are also Sonoma Clean Power customers who may soon be hit with an electric bill increase through no fault of Sonoma Clean Power. Whether this happens depends on a decision to be made today by the California Public Utilities Commission.
The commission will decide whether PG&E and other utilities can increase a previously small charge on customers’ bills. PG&E is requesting the increase as compensation for losses the company claims to have incurred because Sonoma Clean Power customers no longer pay PG&E for power the company says it purchased on their behalf. To be clear, monthly electricity bills wouldn’t increase because Sonoma Clean Power is raising its rates, but because PG&E would be significantly increasing what is known as the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment.
Sonoma Clean Power has enjoyed a spectacularly successful launch and first full year of service. Rates are currently 6 to 9 percent below PG&E rates, including the current Power Charge Indifference Adjustment fee. Sonoma Clean Power customers’ dollars pay for 36 percent renewable energy in the basic power mix, which is about 48 percent lower in greenhouse gas emissions than PG&E’s mix. When Sonoma Clean Power considered rate changes earlier this year, it chose to keep them unchanged from the previous year, in contrast to PG&E’s 30-plus year trend of increasing rates an average of 4 percent per year.
PG&E’s proposed radical increase in the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment fee is among many attempts it has made over the past decade to crush community choice. Its attempts include aggressive anti-community choice marketing, several failed proposed laws in the state Legislature and a failed ballot initiative in 2010 on which PG&E spent $50 million of shareholder money.
The intent behind the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment is to ensure that PG&E customers do not experience any increase in their rates due to the fact that some customers have departed as new community choice customers, making the PG&E customers “indifferent” to the fact that a new community choice program has launched. The premise is that PG&E has made long-term power purchases on behalf of the community choice customers who are no longer full customers of PG&E. However, the way the fee is calculated and what purchases are counted are cloaked in mystery.
The timing of this “adjustment” to the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment coincides with the anticipated launch of San Francisco’s Community Choice program in early 2016. Many other communities in PG&E’s service territory are also on track to establish community choice programs imminently. With a dramatically increased Power Charge Indifference Adjustment, community choice programs lose their competitive edge, and the many communities currently considering Community Choice may abandon it instead.
PG&E cannot raise the fee without the state Public Utility Commission’s approval. You can reach the CPUC at firstname.lastname@example.org. Woody Hastings is the renewable energy implementation Manager at the Center for Climate Protection, which is based in Santa Rosa.
Source: PG&E’s plan to raise an obscure fee on | The Press Democrat
Mark Leno & Francesca Vietor, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
No one disputes that an exit fee paid to utilities, if appropriately administered, can be a fair way to equitably reimburse existing electric customers when others leave for cleaner energy from programs such as Marin Clean Energy, Sonoma Clean Power, or forthcoming programs such as CleanPowerSF or Peninsula Clean Energy.
What is at issue is why the California Public Utilities Commission is not asking questions expected of an oversight body or engaging in a transparent public process in this important decision. We request that the state commission reject the PG&E proposal to double the exit fee when it votes on Thursday until the commissioners can audit PG&E’s proposed rate increase and revisit the fairness of the calculation of the fee, known as the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment.
Until that audit and public discourse has taken place, we propose that the commission temporarily cap any such increases requested by the utility. The commission should then convene a series of public workshops and attempt to create a fair and balanced process that provides equity for customers who choose to remain with PG&E and for those who choose a cleaner future through community choice aggregation programs.
If PG&E’s proposed increase to $13 from $6.70 a month is approved, it would stifle efforts of California cities to receive cleaner electricity and disproportionately charge higher fees to the poorest households. California cities and counties, energy advocates and environmental organizations are demanding that the commission enforce its own rate-making rules by taking the time to properly audit and discuss PG&E’s rate proposal.
Read more at: PG&E’s huge profit from exit fee signals need for reform
Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
As Petaluma veterinarian Matthew Carter’s electricity bills reflect, caring for animals in a comfortable clinic setting is not cheap.
Carter, who co-owns Central Animal Hospital on D Street with his wife, is having solar panels installed on the roof of the business this week. He hopes to slash the clinic’s energy bills, which average about $800 a month, by about 80 percent.
And, economics aside, solar power, Carter said, “is good for the environment.”
Legions of Californians have turned to solar energy for similar reasons. But under proposals by the state’s three utility giants, rooftop solar power may become less of a good deal. The companies, including PG&E, are seeking to lower compensation rates to solar customers who supply excess power to the grid, and to also implement new “demand charges” for those customers.
The changes would cut the amount solar customers save on utility bills by an average of about $20 per month.
PG&E, which has connected more rooftop solar than any utility in America, argues the changes are needed to create a more equitable and sustainable framework for maintaining the electricity grid.
“We need to make sure the grid is robust and that it can accommodate that two-way power flow,” said Steve Malnight, PG&E’s senior vice president of regulatory affairs.
Solar companies, however, say the utilities are really seeking to dim interest in the fast-growing source of power for homes and businesses. Sonoma County alone has seen an 808 percent increase in the number of PG&E customers hooking up to solar in the past decade — and there are no signs of the trend abating.
Read more at: Proposal from PG&E, other utilities, seeks cut in | The Press Democrat
Julia Pyper, GREENTECH MEDIA February 10, 2015. Pacific Gas & Electric filed a proposal yesterday for $654 million in ratepayer dollars to build 25,000 electric vehicle charging stations across its service area in northern and central California.If approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, the program will be the largest deployment of electric vehicle EV chargers in the country. California, the leading market for plug-in cars in the United States, currently has about 6,000 public charging stations. Consumer advocates, however, including the Utility Reform Network TURN, are concerned that the program puts an unfair cost burden on ratepayers for infrastructure that only a small percentage of customers will use. A typical residential customer would pay an additional 70 cents per month to cover the costs of the program from 2018 to 2022. “We are very skeptical about the value of investing so much ratepayer money and betting it all on electric vehicles,” Mark Toney, executive director of TURN, told the San Jose Mercury News. PG&E estimates it will incur $551 million in capital costs and $103 million in operating expenses over the course of the five-year program. Pending approval, installation would begin in 2017.
Read more via PG&E Seeks $654 Million to Build 25,000 EV Charging Stations : Greentech Media.
Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A huge underground tank full of toxic black sludge in downtown Santa Rosa should be left where it lies because it is too difficult to safely remove and poses little threat to neighboring Santa Rosa Creek, according to the Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
The utility has also concluded that the contamination on the site of its former manufactured gas plant is immobile enough that it does not need to install a costly barrier designed to prevent waste material from migrating toward the creek, arguing it would be too disruptive and unnecessary.
The hands-off approach outlined for the Santa Rosa City Council last week represents a departure from the aggressive cleanup efforts that PG&E has undertaken on the property in recent years, which have resulted in the removal of tons of similar material.
But PG&E’s environmental consultants say the new strategy is justified because years of water-quality monitoring data shows that neither groundwater in the area nor the creek are at risk of contamination.
“The stuff is immobile. It hasn’t gone anywhere over the past 100 years and we have over 25 years of data,” Max Reyhani, principal engineer with Terra Pacific Group, told the council. “I think that’s a pretty good indication of the stability of site conditions.”
PG&E’s latest plan still needs the approval of the North Coast Water Quality Control Board, which has been overseeing cleanup of the property for nearly 30 years. The City Council, which has no direct authority over the cleanup of the site, has requested regular status reports on the downtown project.
Water board staff expressed confidence that continuing to monitor groundwater in the area made more sense than requiring the removal of the tank and material at this point.
“With the monitoring, I am extremely confident that we’re not going to have an issue that actually manages to migrate to the creek (over the next decade),” said Craig Hunt, supervisor of the water board’s cleanup division.
But not everyone is so sanguine about the situation.
Allen Hatheway, author of a 2012 textbook on the subject of cleaning up former gas plant sites, called the claims that the tank can’t be removed “nonsense.”
Read more via PG&E: Toxic tank in Santa Rosa best left | The Press Democrat.
For more than two years, SolarCity Corp. has been trying to launch an experiment that could change the way we power our homes.
The San Mateo company has installed battery packs in more than 100 houses throughout California, each pack linked to rooftop solar panels. The lithium-ion batteries, made by Tesla Motors, store electricity from the panels during the day for use at night.
That combination – solar on the roof, batteries in the basement – could one day revolutionize the energy industry, undercutting traditional utility companies.
So the utilities, SolarCity says, are fighting back.
California’s big electricity providers are dragging their feet on connecting the batteries to the grid and charging steep fees – nearly $3,700 per customer, in some cases – to do so, according to SolarCity.
Chainsaws were roaring on Sonoma Mountain last week as PG&E moved ahead with its new policy of gradually removing all vegetation except grass from under and around high voltage lines. Trees being removed are on steep slopes, above streams, and in a Regional Parks-owned property, Sonoma Mountain Woodlands.
A new federal standard was enacted in 2006 to put pressure on utilities that had been negligent in maintaining vegetation near high voltage lines, causing fires and blackouts. Although the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has clarified that this policy does not require clear-cutting, PG&E’s long-term plans are now to eliminate all vegetation taller than three feet under and near the lines.
High voltage lines run through some of the most scenic parts of Sonoma County, including Open Space District properties, Annadel State Park, and Shiloh Ranch Park. PG&E has trimmed old oaks, madrones and even redwoods in these line easements for over 50 years, keeping a generous safety margin of 25 feet between trees and lines, and there have never been any outages or fires.
A local group, SOS-Trees, has been negotiating with PG&E on behalf of affected property owners, who have been shocked at the extent of tree-removal which PG&E now wants. Their website, at sos-trees.org, contains information about PG&E vegetation management policies and stories of other communities that have opposed the new rules. SOS-Trees website FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff comments on clear-cutting by utilities
by Jay Gamel, THE KENWOOD PRESS
The gloves have come off. After months of meetings and vague promises to “discuss” tree removal, PG&E told Oakmont and Bennett Valley residents on May 7 that it intends to clear cut the entire 39-mile-long, high voltage line that stretches from Petaluma to the Geysers. Steve Tankersley, head of the statewide vegetation management program told people at the meeting that the company intends to remove up to 4,000 trees between May 15 and June 15, and to finish the entire job by December.
The decision to clear cut is a significant departure from the company’s 50-year policy of examining and trimming trees that threaten power lines.
via The Kenwood Press – PG&E intends to clear cut.