By Brenda Ratliff
The Volunteer Center of Kern has been mobilizing people and resources to deliver creative solutions to address community issues through volunteerism for nearly 50 years. Now, we need some creative solutions to fix a problem that’s impacting every one of us who call Kern County home.
Many Central Valley residents struggle to pay our electric bills, particularly in scorching summer heat. This summer we endured more than sixty days topping triple digits, forcing residents to run their air conditioners around the clock to stay safe and cool.
That is why I was shocked to learn that electricity customers in some parts of the state – including right here in the Valley — are paying for a portion of electricity originally purchased for customers in other parts of the state.
Current law is supposed to prevent this from happening, but the regulation to protect customers from paying more than we should is broken. Some customers are paying as much as $150 extra a year for power purchased for others.
Every day, our volunteers work with seniors on fixed incomes and families struggling to make ends meet. They can’t afford to pay more than they should. Nor should they have to.
Fortunately, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has opened a proceeding to fix the broken regulation.
So how did this happen? As the state’s energy landscape changes, more and more alternative energy providers, like Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs), are forming. CCAs are government entities, usually formed by cities and counties, which take over power purchases for their residents. Utilities, like PG&E, continue to be responsible for the delivering the energy, maintaining poles and wires and providing customer service, but they no longer buy the energy that is delivered over their poles and wires for customers served by CCAs.
The CPUC is trying to fix an existing regulation that has failed to ensure that all customers continue to pay their fair share of long-term renewable power commitments, regardless of whether they receive power from their utility or a CCA. The state required that investor-owned utilities buy these long-term contracts years ago so that the state could meet its clean energy goals, ensure reliability and create new jobs. These investments helped kick-start the clean energy industry, made solar and other renewable energy more affordable, ensured power reliability and improved our environment.
Everyone in California has benefitted from these early investments in clean energy. And the expectation was that everyone would pay their fair share of the cost.
In fact, when the State Legislature passed a law authorizing the creation of CCAs in 2002, it was made clear that CCA customers would still be required to pay their share of these long-term contracts, and that customers who remain with their utility would not be unfairly burdened.
But today, some customers served by CCAs are only paying roughly 65 percent of their share of these power purchases.
That means that the customers remaining with the utility are left paying not just for the power they use, but also the power that was purchased for someone else.
Residents in the Central Valley cannot and should not have to shoulder the extra cost. Hopefully the CPUC acts soon, before the unfair cost burden grows.
Our region is still struggling economically. Statewide unemployment is 4.8 percent, while Kern County’s unemployment rate is nearly double at 9.4 percent. For the families we work with, every dollar counts when they are stretching financially to pay the bills every month. We want to make sure people are aware of this issue, but it’s up to the CPUC to fix this regulation soon.