California legislators want to review controversial electric charge

A state Assembly committee voted Wednesday to advance a bill that would require a legislative review of a controversial new monthly fixed charge on electric bills.

The state Public Utilities Commission, which is led by appointees of Gov. Gavin Newsom, approved the $24.15 a month charge last week. In return for paying the new fee, consumers will get a lower rate for each kilowatt hour of power they use.

The Newsom administration says the new billing structure is needed to encourage more people to buy electric cars and replace gas appliances in their homes, which would reduce the use of planet-warming fossil fuels.

A coalition of more than 250 consumer and other groups has been protesting against the new monthly charge, saying that millions of Californians who live in apartments or small homes that use little electricity will see their bills increase to subsidize those using far more power.

Several members of the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Energy said Wednesday that there should have been a discussion about the new fixed charge in 2022. That was when Newsom proposed it in a massive bill tied to his budget. In a few days it passed with little public discussion.

Pacific Gas and Electric had asked the commission for the new monthly fee in a regulatory filing just three months before the bill’s approval.

“We should have had this discussion two years ago,” said Marc Berman, a Democrat from Menlo Park. “We really don’t know the impact this will have.”

In January, Jacqui Irwin, a Thousand Oaks Democrat, introduced a bill to undo much of Newsom’s 2022 bill.

Assembly leaders last month stopped Irwin’s bill from being heard in committee, but she then agreed to weaken the bill.

Her current bill, known as AB 1999, would require a study in 2028 of who pays more or less under the new $24.15 charge and whether it has unintended consequences. She said the legislature would then decide how the fee should be changed.

The coalition has argued that Newsom’s bill will cause a financial windfall for the electric companies because it eliminated a $10 cap on fixed charges that had been in place since 2013.

Irwin’s bill would keep the utilities from raising the fixed charge by more than inflation.

The new charge affects customers of investor-owned power companies, including PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric. It does not apply to customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power or other municipal utilities.

Irwin said Wednesday that the Legislature needed to review the fixed charge rather than leaving the decision to the utilities commission. She said the commission had become “a rubber stamp” for utilities’ requests.

The committee voted 9 to 0 to advance the bill to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

The fixed charges are scheduled to begin as soon as late 2025.

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