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    'I'm just fed up,' some consumers tell regulators who will decide SDG&E's proposed rate hike

    March 24, 2023 - Rob Nikolewski, The San Diego Union-Tribune


      The California Public Utilities Commission hosted two in-person meetings Thursday to get input from the public about a proposed rate increase starting next year by San Diego Gas & Electric with many speakers in a packed room at the Sherman Heights Community Center saying they didn't want to see their bills go any higher.

      "I'm just fed up. I'm tired of paying these bills," said Robert Moreno of North County. "Please help us. We're trying everything. We're trying to pay our bills."

      SDG&E's proposal would result in an $8.45 increase per month in the electricity bill of a typical residential customer using 400 kilowatt-hours, up 5.3 percent compared to 2023. Natural gas rates would rise 17.5 percent, translating to $9.16 more per month for residential customers using 24 therms in a given month. A therm refers to one unit of natural gas.

      It's up to the utilities commission, or CPUC, to decide whether to accept, reject or modify the requested increases.

      Thursday's meetings were the last of four hearings the CPUC hosted this month to receive public input for what's called a general rate case. Every four years, the state's investor-owned utilities file requests to the commission, estimating what each utility believes it will cost to maintain and upgrade its power system.

      SDG&E's application for the years 2024 through 2027 would include major investments in:

      The proposed increase "represents a conscious effort of hundreds of ... SDG&E employees to deliver safe, reliable and climate-resilient energy to our customers during the next four years," said Jamie York, SDG&E's director of general rate case and revenue requirements.

      SDG&E's application to the CPUC comes on the heels of a surge in natural gas prices that increased some customers' gas bills by 100 percent or more early this year. The commodity, or wholesale, price of natural gas for Southern California has fallen back to more normal levels in March.

      York acknowledged "this is a very difficult time to discuss" a possible rate increase but said, "we believe our rate request strikes the right balance between making strategic investments that benefit our customers and mitigate rate impacts."

      But 30 of the 39 people who commented at Thursday's 2 p.m. meeting said they wanted the CPUC to reject the proposed increase.

      "Say no to any rate hike," said Mary Davis of Alpine. "And do not give consumers a fake victory by allowing SDG&E a smaller rate increase than what they're asking for — zero, zip, nada, nil."

      Some referenced the 2022 earnings call by Sempra, the Fortune 500 energy company that is the parent company of SDG&E. Sempra reported adjusted earnings of $2.92 billion for the year and SDG&E posted profits of $915 million.

      "This company is not hurting for money," said Gil Sery of San Diego. "SDG&E should not be able to increase their rates ... They have plenty of money of their own that can and should be used for infrastructure and other necessary projects."

      Others pointed to the high monthly utility bills San Diego customers pay.

      Beatrice Lopez of the family-owned El Pollo Grill in Lemon Grove said her restaurant's utility bill came to $4,800 in December and $6,800 in January. "Keep small businesses open," Lopez said. "Say no to the SDG&E rate hike."

      According to the most recent data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average electricity price in San Diego in February came to 47.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, more than any other metropolitan area. Urban Hawaii came in second, at 43.9 cents.

      Bruce Mayberry, chairman of the County of San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce, said "there is a lot of hurt in our community and some people do need assistance and help with their bills" but added, "SDG&E has been a phenomenal community partner, helping many nonprofits and organizations provide services and needs to the underprivileged community in San Diego."

      CPUC administrative law judge Manisha Lakhanpal has been assigned to SDG&E's rate request and presided over Thursday's public forums. She was accompanied by commissioner Darcie Houck.

      Completing a general rate case is a long process that involves multiple hearings and thousands of pages of documents, legal briefs and testimony from interested parties. Lakhanpal is expected to issue a proposed decision on SDG&E's request early next year, with the CPUC's five commissioners eventually making a final decision by majority vote.

      This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

      ©2023 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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