Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed legislation authored by Henry T. Perea that the Fresno Democrat says will likely lead to lower electricity bills in the central San Joaquin Valley and other hot parts of the state.
Assembly Bill 327 will give power back to the state’s Public Utilities Commission to set electricity rates. It will also take the state’s four power-use tiers and make them into two.
Under the tiered system, users who use less stay in the cheaper lower tiers. Those who use more — especially during peak times — move into the more expensive upper tiers.
Perea said Valley residents moved too fast into the upper tiers.
The Sierra Club had opposed the legislation for several reasons, but most significantly because it will allow imposition of a monthly fixed charge of up to $10 on each customer and increase the cost of electricity for those who use the least power.
The surcharge will also hurt the state’s solar power movement, the Sierra Club said, because people paying up to $120 annually — no matter how little power they use — will likely think twice about solar.
“It’s disappointing to see legislators like Assemblymember Perea spin a regressive, fixed charge on utility bills as anything but a giveaway from Californians to the shareholders of PG&E,” said Evan Gillespie, the Western region deputy director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.
Gillespie said the bill shifted over the final few weeks, but the changes never addressed the fundamental problems with the bill, which will also hurt rooftop solar and energy efficiency.
But Perea and other supporters of the legislation were able to win over most skeptics.
A news release from Perea’s office included positive quotes from both The Greenlining Institute, a national policy and leadership organization that promotes racial and economic justice, and The Utility Reform Network, a leading consumer group focused on electricity issues.
The state’s three large investor-owned utilities also supported the legislation, as did many solar-energy companies and advocacy groups.
“The idea that PG&E pulled out all the stops to pass a bill with the goal of saving its customers money is laughable,” Gillespie said. “I don’t buy it and the analysis never showed that.”
Perea never disputed many of the Sierra Club’s concerns.
On the fixed charge, for instance, he said it will initially be somewhere around $2 or $3 monthly, and will take years to reach $10. It is needed, Perea said, to maintain the power grid’s essential infrastructure.
As it is now, Perea said, those without solar are picking up the grid infrastructure maintenance costs for those who have solar. It is, he said, unfair.
The other thing that is unfair, he said, is that the Valley pays more for electricity because of the summer heat.
“This bill is about keeping electric rates affordable for all Californians while promoting renewable energy growth,” Perea said in a statement.