PG&E wants to increase rates to make wildfire areas safer. Fresnans say no

The Pacific Gas and Electric Company wants to raise rates for consumers throughout the state next year to help pay for wildfire risk management and insurance, but many in Fresno and the state are opposed.

The California Public Utilities Commission brought its statewide listening tour to Fresno on Wednesday for afternoon and evening hearings. At the afternoon hearing, Mayor Lee Brand and several community members stated the case that Fresnans cannot afford an increase.

The evening hearing begins at 6 p.m. in the Fresno City Council chambers, 2600 Fresno St.

What PG&E is asking for

If approved, residential customers would pay 6.4% more every month, or an average of $10.57 per bill, according to PG&E. The company’s total revenue generation would increase by $1.058 billion in 2020, $454 million in 2021 and $486 million in 2022, the commission says.

The utility company says it needs to address a changing climate and invest in technology and management that will mitigate wildfires, such as 2018’s Camp Fire that killed 85 people in Butte County. A Cal Fire investigation revealed the fire was started by electrical transmission lines owned by PG&E.

The increase would help implement and care for high-fire risk areas, according to PG&E. Stronger power poles, covered power lines, 600 fire detection cameras and 1,300 new weather stations would be installed, the utility company says. Workers would also keep lines clear of vegetation and conduct annual inspections of 81,000 miles of distribution lines.

Mayor, Mary Curry and Centro La Familia state positions

Mayor Brand said although the city has a good partnership with PG&E, he cannot support the increase because of the city’s high poverty rate.

“As one of PG&E’s largest customers, I ask for continued support for the disadvantaged in Fresno,” he said. “Any increase would be hard for residents.”

Mary Curry, who has lived in Fresno for 60 years, said PG&E has steadily increased rates over the years with no increase in service. She said it’s not fair that customers should have to pay for PG&E to fix their wildfire problem.

“The ratepayer didn’t cause these situations,” she said, “and the ratepayer shouldn’t be penalized.” She said she hopes one day that consumers have a right to choose their energy provider. “We have no choice but to use PG&E,” she said.

Margarita Rocha with Centro La Familia said she works with thousands of families every year who struggle to pay their bills. Although $10 a month may seem manageable, for many it is not, she said. “We already see families who can’t afford the rent they currently have. It is not the community’s burden to try and bail somebody out.”

Other cities, consumer groups and organizations also oppose the rate increase, according to the commission.

Hearings have been held across the state, including San Francisco, Stockton, San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield. Comments can also be sent to public.advisor@cpuc.ca.gov or mailed to CPUC Public Advisor, 505 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102.

The CPUC is set to review PG&E’s application from Sept. 23 to Oct. 18 and a decision will be announced the first quarter of 2020.

Ashleigh Panoo: 559-441-6010, @AshleighPanoo
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