If you had an air conditioner on this summer, there’s a chance your bill included a financial punch in the gut in the form of a “high usage charge.”
San Diego Gas & Electric sent a letter to get rid of the cost-escalating high usage charge — designed to promote energy conservation — to the agency that established it, the California Public Utilities Commission, by June 1.
There’s no guarantee the commission will do anything, but SDG&E said they were prompted to do something after the hottest August on record meant ratepayers were hit especially hard.
“We heard from customers and we are trying to be responsive to what we heard,” Wes Jones, SDG&E communications manager, said Tuesday.
The high usage charge was put in place by the commission in November 2017, meaning most customers did not find out about the change until they really needed extra power the following summer.
As part of the state’s efforts to promote energy conservation, the commission said all California customers would be charged the steeper rate, not just San Diego, when they use more than four times the electricity their homes are allotted each month.
Yet the change came as Southern California reached some of its highest recorded temperatures this summer, and the energy-sucking air conditioners turned on.
Customers in a standard SDG&E tiered billing system pay 27 cents per kilowatt-hour during the summer season (June 1-Oct. 31) and 23 cents a kilowatt-hour in the winter (Nov. 1-May 31).
In SDG&E’s service territory, the high usage fee is 55 cents a kilowatt-hour in summer and 47 cents in winter. It estimates ratepayers would have saved an average $30 a month without the high usage fee.
The utility estimated more than 105,000 ratepayers exceeded 400 percent of their baseline this summer, which only represents about 7.5 percent of its 1.4 million customers. Still, it was flooded with complaints.
Some critics, like The Utility Reform Network, have argued reducing rates would better help customers instead of getting rid of a high usage fee, which would be transferred to other customers who don’t use as much power.
Jones said if the utility does get approval to remove the high usage fee, changes to the lower tiers would be negligible. He said he didn’t know exactly what the changed rates would be. SDG&E sent its letter to the commission on Friday.
In the meantime, SDG&E has come up with other ideas to try and reduce fees this summer:
- Eliminating seasonal pricing where rates are higher in the summer than winter.
- Move the climate credit to August to reduce costs. Climate credits are typically given in April and October.
- Create a new baseline allowance to reflect hotter summers.
Staff writer Rob Nikolewski contributed to this article.
Cheaper energy bills in San Diego next summer? Utility attempts change, by Philip Molnar, The San Diego Union-Tribune, December 4, 2018.