Expiring California green tax may get replaced

September 15, 2011 5:54:52 PM PDT
It's all they do in Sacramento these days -- try to find money.

Do not celebrate lower electricity bills just yet. An expiring surcharge could be replaced with a new one, without legislative approval.

The public goods surcharge you pay on your electricity bill every month to fund clean energy projects is set to expire at the end of this year. It failed to get extended in the waning hours of the legislature last week. Now, environmental groups and Governor Brown are turning to the Public Utilities Commission to levy a new fee similar to the surcharge to continue paying for green projects.

"The program funds public research that many companies in the private sector can share to get us off oil and gas, as well energy efficiency. So, it's a good deal for the ratepayer in the long run because it gets us off petroleum," said Steve Maviglio with Californians For Clean Energy and Jobs.

Many believe the extra fee, in place since 1997, solidified California position as a clean energy leader. That is why Governor Brown pushed for an extension of the public goods charge as part of his jobs package last month.

"We think that'll do a good job. We think it helps incentivize renewable energy and green jobs," he said on August 25.

But anti-tax groups say Californians can ill-afford another public goods charge in this economy and they bring up the recent bankruptcy of Solyndra, which received over $500 million dollars in stimulus money.

"If these energy sources can't stand on their own, should ratepayers be subsidizing them? And, we believe that answer is no," said David Wolfe with Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Critics also point to a recent state audit that found after collecting $700 million, about 10 percent is spent on questionable research like habitat restoration. That is why utility customers like Elgan Garcia do not want to keep paying a public goods surcharge.

"Every day, every year, we get a raise for utility, water, electricity, and I haven't even gotten a raise for almost two years," he told ABC7.

"90 percent has produced more jobs and more energy efficiency saving technology and right now, with energy prices going up, that's critical for California," Mayiglio said.

The PUC is discussing possible action on the new fee which is roughly equivalent to 1.5 percent of your electricity bill. Governor Brown appointed three of the five people sitting on that commission.


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