Sing Tao Opinion Editorial: A government oversight is forcing us to pay more for our electricity

By: Edwin Tan, Ph. D, Director of Advocacy and Development, Asian Americans for Community Involvement

Whenever friends ask me about living in the Bay Area, they always comment on the things we’re famous for: the technology industry and the incredibly high cost of living. In addition to our sky high rental rates and housing costs, some could end up paying roughly $150 extra a year because of broken government regulations that need to be fixed.

The problem comes from how the cost of long-term clean energy contracts are allocated between customers of investor-owned utilities, like PG&E, and customers of alternative energy providers like Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs). CCAs are local government entities that take on the role of buying power for a particular community while existing utilities continue to be responsible for the delivery infrastructure and customer service. We have several of these CCAs in northern California, many of which are located in wealthier neighborhoods.

Years ago, the California state legislature mandated the state’s three investor-owned utility companies to purchase a specific percentage of long-term clean energy contracts. These investments continue to benefit all Californians by improving our air quality and jump-starting  solar technology and other clean energy innovations. At the time, it was expected that all Californians would pay their fair share of the costs for these long-term investments.

In fact, when the state legislature authorized the creation of CCAs in 2002, it took steps to ensure that customers served by the new power providers would continue to pay their fair share of past investments in clean energy and other resources made on their behalf. However, in recent years, it became clear that customers of CCAs are paying just 65 percent of their share of these costs. That means customers of traditional utility companies are forced to pay higher bills to cover these shortages.

At Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI), we work with many families that are struggling to make ends meet. AACI serves more than 12,000 people each year, most of whom are low-income Asian immigrants and refugees who came to the Bay Area for better opportunities and a fair chance. We should not be burdening any of these families with inflated energy bills because of faulty regulations.

The government’s role should be to ensure fairness as the law requires. The California Public Utilities Commission has the authority to fix existing regulations to address this disparity. Unless the commission acts soon, many of us will continue paying higher electric bills while some of our neighbors pay less than their fair share.

Sing Tao, January 21, 2018

Also appeared in World Journal, February 1, 2018.