The California Public Utilities Commission voted on Thursday to approve a plan that will allow the state’s biggest utility provider, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, to raise rates for its customers next year in order to pay for projects that seek to lower the risk of the company’s equipment from starting wildfires.
PG&E serves millions of customers across Northern and Central California, and the vote will allow it to raise rates for its electricity and natural gas customers.
Dozens of members of the public dialed in and appeared in person to comment at the CPUC’s hearings on the proposed rates, with many of them emphasizing the additional economic hardship and citing the company’s role in several deadly fires.
The commission acknowledged the public’s concerns but voted unanimously to approve the changes. They also emphasized state programs that could help lower energy bills.
“We as a commission have struggled mightily with the additional hardship these increases will create for families,” said Commissioner John Reynolds, who wrote the proposal regulators approved. “I can say that I am confident that you are getting something out of this investment.”
For customers, the combined monthly bill for natural gas and electricity will increase by about $32.62 or 12.8 percent, according to the CPUC.
PG&E had requested an increase of $38.73 or 17.9 percent.
The rise in rates will be used to pay for safety work along electric lines, such as burying them under the ground or covering some lines in a material that is more fire-resistant, especially in areas that are prone to wildfires.
In recent years, the company has been found responsible for several deadly wildfires due to faulty equipment or insufficient vegetation maintenance alongside where the electric lines are.
It has also implemented what it calls Power Safety Power Shutoffs, which cut power to regions of the state when weather forecasts include dry and windy conditions that could cause fires to spread more easily.