Bay Area customers are voicing increasing outrage at much larger than normal PG&E bills they received in January, as the utility's double-digit rate hikes began to hit home.
PG&E said that between December 2015 and December 2016, "a number" of approved rate increases resulted in residential rates increasing 21 percent. Rates increased 7 percent on Jan. 1, 2015, and then a further 13 percent on Aug. 1, with at least three rate increases for electricity happening in the last year alone.
"The most significant factor was the approval of a gas rate increase, which was approved in the summer and went into effect on Aug.1, 2016. Gas usage increases during colder months," PG&E spokeswoman Andrea Menniti told the Business Times. "Normal, seasonal shifts in energy use combined with the August changes resulted in higher bills for some customers."
But that explanation didn't go far with some Bay Area consumers, who said they felt blindsided by the rate increases, and hadn't expected to see large bills when their energy consumption had stayed essentially the same from the same period a year ago.
"I received my PG&E bill today and it went from $180 last month to $250 this month and I don't even turn on my heater," Margee Longnecker, a resident in Vallejo told the Business Times. "The only thing that was different from last month is that I received an electric blanket for Christmas but I don't think that would increase the bill by that much. Outrageous."
Her neighbor, Janet Youngdale, agreed, saying her bill went up $200 from the same time period last year, to a total of $511 in January.
"I paid .42 cents per kilowatt hour for more than half of my total usage and we aren't flagrant over consumers," Youngdale told the Business Times. "I feel so ripped off. I'm looking at solar, but I know that's not an option for a lot of people. It's disgraceful that PG&E can do that to people."
Utility watchdog group, The Utility Reform Network, said its analysis had showed that the rate hikes were mostly going to pay for the utility's pipelines and storage. CBS affiliate KPIX also reports that the California regulators approved an 83 percent increase for gas transmission and storage in 2014.
“The biggest part of the increase is the gas transportation," Mark Toney, executive director of TURN. "[It's] absolutely outrageous.”
“The reason people didn’t notice it last year is because last year we had a mild winter, and the cost of the gas actually went down,” Toney added.
Menniti pointed customers to the utility's Your Account” online program, which allows consumers to choose a rate plan and analyze their usage. The company also offers an energy alert tool, which will ping users when they go over personalized budget threshold via email, text or phone call.
"We want our customers to know we are here to help. We understand that no one likes surprises," Menniti told the Business Times. We want our customers to know we have tools to avoid surprises on their energy bills."
PG&E separately told KPIX that customers who think their bills are too high should contact the utility and ask for a bill review.