PG&E Faces Backlash Over Rate Changes

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DAVIS -- Members of the California Public Utilities Commission listened to public comment after many PG&E customers experienced dramatic rate hikes.

Penny Manzo of Rocklin was one of the speakers. She said she is the queen of conservation. But she was baffled when she got her January PG&E bill.

"What started out as a $132 bill turned into a $320 bill out of the high-use month," Manzo said.

She is one of many low-usage customers who has seen a spike in their bill because of a recent PG&E rate increase. Customers were formerly placed in three energy usage tiers -- heavy, average, and low. But as of Wednesday, there are now two tiers -- high and low. Rates will change.

"There may be a little bit of increase to those lower users, but those little bit higher energy users, especially in the Valley in the summertime when it is significantly higher here, there is a potential for them to see a 4 percent decrease," PG&E spokeswoman Brandi Merlo said.

In the last few years, Californians have been conditioned to use less electricity, with the idea that conserving would yield lower electricity bills. Many said this change, which was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, contradicts that.

PG&E said part of the increase is to adjust costs for everyone.

"Historically, lower users were not paying what it actually costs to serve them, while higher users were paying a little bit more. So this tier collapse is designed to align costs closer to what it actually costs to serve out customers," Merlot said.

PG&E said another reason for the increase is maintenance -- something Manzo cannot support.

"The first thing that comes to mind is San Bruno. And why am I, as a rate payer, being forced to pay for their mistakes? For their lack of maintenance? They are the utility. They should be paying attention to their safety concerns and budgeting things into that calendar year," Manzo said.

"Safety is always our top priority and keeping a safe and reliable system is exactly what people are paying for," PG&E Spokesman Donald Cutler said. "We know it can be frustrating when these changes come, and they get surprised by their bills. So we want to let them know that we are here to help them."

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Bill Holloway - Staff Instructor, PG&E Energy Efficiency - shares some energy saving tips.