New Electricity Rates Shift Costs from Big Users, Dim Solar Prospects
Welcome to Lexus Lanes on the energy superhighway.
OK. That’s hyperbole. New rules (pdf) from California’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) last week, which affect 75% of the state’s residential electricity customers, do shift costs from heavy users further down the food chain, flirt with time-of-use charges (endangering granny’s air-conditioned studio apartment in the midday heat), back off from larger egalitarian solar support and essentially de-subsidize low-income consumers.
But in the estimation of Sheryl Carter at the Natural Resources Defense Council it’s still a win because the rules “will help reinforce California’s efforts to strengthen its ambitious climate and clean energy goals, improve its economic and public health, and help customer’s pocketbooks while adding a mechanism that takes into account when you use electricity.”
California’s rate structure was due for a makeover. The last major changes were made about 15 years ago, after partial deregulation of energy markets in the state fostered market manipulation and brought on an electricity crisis that bankrupted Pacific Gas & Electric and nearly snagged Southern California Edison.
A rate structure was created that shielded the most vulnerable from skyrocketing electricity costs, much to the chagrin of utilities. That is not the only thing that chafes utilities. While solar power may seem like a boon in a state that has lost much of its nuclear and hydroelectric power and frowns on fossil fuels, it is a threat to the business model that supports the utility industry.