Flex Alert Latest Speed Bump for Businesses

Some owners worry about quadrupled electric bills

NBC Universal, Inc.

If it’s not one thing in 2020, it’s something else.

That’s how it seems to be going for small businesses already saddled with the bottom-line-busting coronavirus pandemic.

“The last five months have been a struggle,” said Mariana Covarrubias, the co-owner of the Deja Brew Lounge, in North Park. “We used up our life savings basically.”

Now, here comes the latest: a heat wave-prompted flex alert from public utility companies encouraging customers to conserve power as temperatures skip right on by 100 degrees. The California Independent System Operator called for the alert for 3-9 p.m. from Saturday through Monday.

The coffee and dessert shop owner said that during flex alerts, the business' San Diego Gas & Electric power bill quadruples, from roughly $50 to $200 an hour. Covarrubias said that during the last alert, in August, Deja Brew closed for four straight afternoons when the alert started.

“For us, it’s not even worth it to stay open during those hours because it’s like we’re basically working to pay off that bill,” Covarrubias said. “Not ideal.”

“We understand our customers are facing challenges, especially businesses,” said SDG&E spokeswoman Helen Gao.

Gao said Deja Brew has an event-based plan, which allows it to pay a lower rate during regular hours but sees an increased rate during flex alerts. Gao said it’s the default plan for many businesses when they become customers.

“These programs are meant to support conservation when it is really needed,” Gao said. “People have made a big difference, and they can make a big difference.”

However, Gao said businesses and residential customers do have choices. She said there are billing options and payment plans available.

“And we want to help,” Gao said.

NBC 7 learned SDG&E already reached out Thursday to the Deja Brew Lounge to discuss options for their electricity. Gao said any business can contact the utility to discuss options.

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