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Electric bills rise for coastal residents after statewide rate restructuring

Greta Mart/KCBX
Morro Bay PG&E customers will be paying more for electricity.

As of this week, PG&E customers on the Central Coast will be paying more for their electricity. Rates went up on March 1, and the estimated increase for PG&E customers is 2.1 percent a month. 

PG&E spokesperson Mark Mesesan says the rate hike has been in the works ever since AB 327 was signed into law in 2013. That bill gave the California Public Utilities Commission the power to change the state's electric rate structure.

"Basically the process is to modernize and simplify our electric rate system, balancing our rate tiers, eventually moving to a time of use rate structure," Mesesan told KCBX this week.

The way the old rate system worked, customers were placed in tiers depending on how much electricity they used and where they lived. The more electricity used, the higher the tier with a higher cost per unit. Same goes for different geographic locations.

PG&E says that was unfair to Californians who live inland and need to use more electricity to run air conditioners in the summer and heaters in the winter. Because of where they lived, they were automatically paying higher rates per unit used.

"That would mean places like Atascadero and Paso Robles customers were paying more proportionately compared to people in say south San Luis Obispo County," Mesesan said.

Residents in Templeton, King City or Los Olivos may see their bills decreasing with this week’s changes. But not so for coastal residents.

"Yes, there may be possibilities that customers in a temperate place like Morro Bay will start paying a little more based on the new rate structure," Mesesan said, adding there  are several programs for lower-income customer to reduce energy bills. PG&E customers can learn about those programs on the company’s website.

Editor's note: The original version of this story included Southern California Edison in the first sentence as also raising rates on March 1. SCE spokesperson Ron Gales emailed KCBX on March 3 to correct this error, writing, "For the record: As of January 1, 2017, the number of tiers in SCE’s Standard Residential Rate Plan — which applies to most of SCE’s residential customers — was reduced from three to two tiers. As of that date, customers also became subject to a High Usage Charge if their energy usage during a billing cycle greatly exceeds the typical usage of a household in their geographic region. The change in rate structures was directed by the California Public Utilities Commission to more closely align rates with the actual cost of electric service, and to encourage energy conservation. Separately, also as of January 1, 2017, rates for SCE residential customers increased by 3.7 percent, primarily due to a recent significant rise in natural gas prices. As a result, the average 2017 bill increase for SCE residential customers on the Standard Residential Rate Plan will average between $3-4 per month."