PALMDALE – Southern California Edison customers, as well as activists, showed up to Thursday’s public hearing at Palmdale City Hall to let utility officials know how they would be impacted by proposed rate design changes.
Grateful that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) was persuaded by local community leaders to host a public hearing in the Antelope Valley, more than 50 residents, from as nearby as Lancaster and as far away as Ridgecrest, turned out for the 2 p.m. session to provide personal input for the regulatory proceeding.
Dr. Mark W. Toney, executive director of The Utility Reform Network, told local residents that their voice at the hearing does make a difference.
“Today you have the opportunity to share your opinion before a decision is made… about the increase in the fixed-monthly charge, the two-tiered pricing and the time-of-use pricing proposals,” Toney told participants at the start of the session.
The pricing components Toney mentioned are part of the “residential electric rate design change” proposal by SCE, which the CPUC is currently evaluating for consumers, according to Administrative Law Judge Julie Halligan, who hosted Thursday’s public hearings.
“Our objective is to make sure we get a fair and full record for this proceeding, and that means getting comments and concerns from the public on how they feel about the commission’s rulemaking and utilities proposals and other testimony,” Judge Halligan told participants before opening the hearing to public testimony.
Halligan pointed out key elements of SCE’s proposal, while explaining that the commission will ultimately consider what changes will be made.
One of the highlights of SCE’s proposed changes includes reducing the number of tiers from four to two, as stated in material provided by the utility at the hearing. SCE has rationalized this change by saying that “the current four-tiered rate structure often results in summer bill spikes, punishing customers for using air conditioning during heat waves.”
One speaker at the hearing, Vicki Medina, executive director of the AV Board of Trade and resident of Lancaster, agreed with SCE’s proposed change to two-tiered pricing, saying it was high time rate reform addressed inequity.
“It’s hot here. We use our ACs a lot during the summer months. And unlike some coastal residents who never turn on their air conditioners, they’re paying lower rates than we are,” Medina said. “In Antelope Valley, we’re bearing the load. High usage is not necessarily the rich, and low usage is not necessarily the poor. … The Antelope Valley Board of Trade supports residential rate reform.”
Another proposed change in SCE’s electric utility residential rate design includes a fixed charge of $10 (or $5 for low-income customers) that would supposedly be offset by lowering other portions of the bill to better account for power network costs.
According to information provided at the public hearing, SCE stated that this fixed charge would “allow everyone to contribute to the cost of maintaining and upgrading a 21st century power network and transition California to cleaner energy.”
Michael Turnipseed, who represents the Kern County Taxpayers Association, challenged SCE’s description of a fixed charge, bringing attention to the importance of underwriting the fixed costs of the utility’s infrastructure.
“If you have a meter on your house, there is a fixed cost to keep that meter there,” Turnipseed explained, “whether you buy 1 kW or 1,000 kW, the cost of that meter at your house is the same. And that’s why it’s important that you allow customer charges to help underwrite those fixed costs, not the variable costs of power, but the fixed costs of infrastructure and all the things that cost (the utility) to get that electricity to your house.”
Johnathon Ervin, president of the Antelope Valley Community Alliance and resident of Lancaster, said that SCE’s time-of-use pricing proposal is another concern worth addressing. Ervin talked about how an average of 71,000 people from the Antelope Valley commute down the 14 Freeway during the week. And when they return home to the High Desert, it is normally at a time-of-use period when the day is at its warmest.
“And everybody is going to want to turn their air conditioning on, because if you live here, you realize that electricity is so essential,” Ervin said. “One of the issues with time-of-use is that … we don’t want to have to time our life around when we can use our electricity.”
Palmdale resident Steve Chisolm, a recently retired union electrician, said his family has worked hard over the years to conserve energy; however, SCE’s proposed time-of-use policy for consumers would make his family’s energy-saving efforts useless.
“TURN says that I should opt in on the time-of-use rates, but now that I am gonna have to get up at five o’clock in the morning for the first rate just to turn on the dishwasher and laundry – really?” Chisolm groaned. “So I don’t think this is fair for me and my family for being as energy-conscious as we have been.”
Despite the proposed changes in SCE’s electric utility residential rate design, SCE says it plans to retain protections for low-income customers, where the current discount of 30-35 percent would continue under the utility’s proposal.
The current regulatory proceeding was opened in June 2012 by the CPUC to examine appropriate electric rate structures for residential customers, officials stated. The CPUC also said that the regulatory proceeding will not increase the amount of revenue that utilities receive. According to the CPUC’s upcoming schedule, evidentiary hearings at CPUC will take place in November, and a final decision is expected in time for Summer 2015 rate changes.
Previous related story: AV residents speak out on Edison’s pending rate hike
About the authorJim E. Winburn is freelance reporter covering news of public interest.