SDG&E gets a big thumbs-down from callers on potential rate increase
If approved by the CPUC, monthly electric bills for typical residential customers would increase $8.45 per month and natural gas bills would go up $9.16, starting next year.
San Diego Gas & Electric’s request to increase electric and natural gas rates next year and through 2027 received a decidedly negative reception from customers who called into a virtual hearing Monday night hosted by the California Utilities Commission.
SDG&E proposal would result in an $8.45 increase per month in the electricity bill of a typical residential customer using 400 kilowatt-hours, up 5.3 percent compared to 2023. Natural gas rates would rise 17.5 percent, translating to $9.16 more per month for residential customers using 24 therms in a given month. A therm refers to one unit of natural gas.
It’s up to the utilities commission, the CPUC , to decide whether to accept, reject or modify the requested increases.
Monday night’s meeting was one of four hearings the CPUC has scheduled to receive public input for what’s called a General Rate Case. Every four years, the state’s investor-owned utilities file requests to the commission, estimating what each utility believes it will cost to maintain and upgrade its power system.
SDG&E’s proposed increases come on the heels of a surge in the commodity price in natural gas that increased some customers’ gas bills by 100 percent or more early this year.
If approved by the CPUC, monthly electric bills for typical residential customers would increase $8.45 per month and natural gas bills would go up $9.16.
The commodity, or wholesale, price of natural gas for Southern California has fallen back to more normal levels in March, but judging by some of the calls Monday night, the financial pain and anger are still fresh.
“I’m facing $300 bills in a home that’s constantly in the 50s” for room temperature, said one woman from Carlsbad. “I use less than average kilowatt-hours per hour per household. I cannot afford to live without shaking in the cold.”
Brian Naugton recently moved to San Diego and said, “We have our oven open to let the heat out after we ate dinner, sitting in front of an electric heater, covered in cats, to generate warmth because our power bill last month was $615.”
- programs to reduce wildfire risk. Since the deadly Witch Creek, Guejito and Rice fires of 2007, SDG&E has already spent about $3 billion on safety measures such as replacing wood poles with fire-resistant steel poles, undergrounding power lines and establishing a network of more than 220 weather stations.
- decarbonization efforts, such as installing utility-scale battery storage projects and electric vehicle charging infrastructure that align with state and local climate action plans. Seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, California policymakers have set a goal to derive 100 percent of the state’s electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045, if not sooner.
- improvements to electricity transmission and distribution, including pipeline replacements, and
- bolstering cybersecurity and upgrading the ability to protect customer data
“We believe our rate request strikes the right balance between making strategic investments to benefit customers and mitigate rate impacts,” said Jamie York, SDG&E’s director of General Rate Case and revenue requirements. “California has established aggressive greenhouse gas goals that call for massive increases in the use of clean electricity. Our rate request is geared for preparing the grid for the clean energy future that so many of us aspire toward.”
CPUC administrative law judge Manisha Lakhanpal has been assigned to SDG&E’s rate request and presided over Monday’s virtual hearing. She was accompanied by commissioner Darcie Houck.
The meeting heard 65 customers over the course of three hours, with all but seven callers opposing the rate increase.
Many referenced last week’s 2022 earnings call by Sempra, the Fortune 500 energy company that is the parent company of SDG&E. Sempra reported adjusted earnings of $2.92 billion for the year and SDG&E posted profits of $915 million.
The announcement comes one day before parent company Sempra releases its 2022 earnings.
“I am sleeping in long underwear and sweats because I don’t turn on my heater,” said Paula Brant, a retiree living in Poway. “The house is frigidly cold. In the summertime, I can’t afford to turn on air because I can’t afford the bill. And the profits that SDG&E made is obscene.”
Others pointed to data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that in January the average electricity price in San Diego came to 47.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, more than any other metropolitan area. Urban Hawaii came in second, at 44.6 cents.
“We are the highest rate in the continental U.S., more than 67 percent than the national average,” said Chelsea Logan, a condominium owner in Oceanside who said she is considering moving back in with her parents because of rising costs. “But we do not get 67 percent or more in terms of service.”
Another virtual hearing is scheduled for March 15.
Two in-person forums will be held March 23 at the Sherman Heights Community Center at 2258 Island Ave. There will be one session at 2 p.m. and a second at 6 p.m.
The process of completing a General Rate Case is a long one that involves multiple hearings and thousands of pages of documents, legal briefs and testimony from interested parties. Lakhanpal is expected to issue a proposed decision on SDG&E’s request early next year, with the CPUC’s five commissioners eventually making a final decision by majority vote.
CPUC public forums on SDG&E’s proposed rate increase
Virtual meeting March 15, 1 p.m.
Phone number: 800-857-1917
In-person meeting March 23
First session starts at 2 p.m.
Second session starts at 6 p.m.
Sherman Heights Community Center
Multipurpose Room on second floor
2258 Island Ave.
San Diego, CA 92102