The next potential rate increase for San Diego Gas and Electric customers could increase bills by more than $18 per month, experts say.
Before the state’s regulatory agency can enact that hike, though, customers will have a chance to weigh in.
NBC 7 has been reporting for months about high energy bills that have hit many — especially those on a fixed income — hard. Now, SDG&E plans to raise rates again to "create long-term benefits for future generations," according to the company.
Every four years, California utility companies are required to file general rate cases; outlining their capital investments and forecasted costs for operations and maintenance.
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If approved, SDG&E’s proposal — which wouldn't take effect until 2024 — would increase monthly electric bills by about $9 and $9.60 for monthly natural gas bills.
Some San Diegans are still reeling from a rate increase that took effect in January. That same month, a spike in natural-gas prices caused customers across the county to see a large increase in their bills; some were paying double, even triple what they usually paid.
“You know, we made a commitment when we were experiencing higher bills early this year of making sure that our customers aren't surprised,” senior vice-president of customer services and external affairs Scott Crider told NBC 7.
The utility company's representatives said it plans to invest new revenue in infrastructure to expand and improve electrical-vehicle charging stations, strengthening cyber-security and reducing wildfire risk.
The California Public Utilities Commission has directed SDG&E to develop these sort of projects, which are paid for through additional fees on customers’ bills. It’s a process that is often met with criticism.
Ed Lopez is the executive director of San Diego's Utility Consumers' Action Network.
“At this point, we strongly believe the balance now needs to tilt in favor of SDG&E’s customers,” Lopez said.
UCAN plans to intervene on behalf of customers to make sure this proposed rate increase is reasonable, Lopez said.
“San Diego needs to have one or more public hearings, and that's a wonderful opportunity for customers to come on out and say, 'What the heck is going on? This just isn't right',” Lopez said.
SDG&E said its staff has spent a year coming up with this proposal and is trying to keep costs in check.
“We want our customers to be engaged,” Crider said. “We want UCAN and other consumer groups to be engaged, because in the end, the public utilities commission is going to ultimately make this decision, and we want to make sure that, you know, we're really hearing from all sides.”
There is an 18-month process before the CPUC approves any rate increases. Consumers can think of it like a civil court case: There will be a hearing in about a month, when a judge will set a procedural schedule. The first public input meeting will likely be in the fall.
The proposed rate increase will affect all customers whether they get electricity from SDG&E or a community choice aggregation provider.