7 On Your Side: How PG&E's minimum charge will affect you

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PG&E's new minimum charge applies to very few of us, but 7 On Your Side looks into why all customers still need to pay attention to this. (KGO-TV)

Hundreds of thousands of PG&E customers have received a notice in the mail informing them of a rate hike. The new minimum charge is the first step toward a new rate system that critics say will mean higher rates for most of us.

7 On Your Side took a closer look at this to see what it means for you. The minimum charge applies to very few of us, but here is why you still need to pay attention.

Livermore resident Camillo Swiger is one of 200,000 homeowners in PG&E's service area who installed solar in his home. Up to now, the monthly PG&E bill for his home has been less than $5 a month. The new minimum charge is now $10.

"I just didn't understand what the rate increase was accomplishing," Swiger said.

Ninety-nine percent of PG&E customers pay bills higher than $10 a month. The minimum charge impacts primarily solar customers and those with vacation homes where the power is turned off. PG&E says the higher minimum charge approved by the California Public Utilities Commission is necessary to keep everyone connected.

"You have to make sure those connections are maintained so when the sun doesn't shine, PG&E can be that back up battery to help solar customers stay lit in their home," PG&E spokesperson Greg Snapper said.

Mark Toney, the executive director of The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, says minimum charges are a step closer to a new rate structure that will raise rates for many.

"Minimum bills are just the tip of the iceberg for PG&E. What they really want is fixed charges of $10 a month for all customers," Toney said.

Toney predicts fixed rate charges will lead to rate hikes for up to 80 percent of PG&E customers. How? All PG&E customers would pay a fixed $10 per month fee on top of charges for the electricity they use. Those who use the least amount of energy will see rate hikes. People who use the most amount of energy will see rate reductions.

"PG&E has decades' long history of helping customers in the state save energy and money," Snapper said.

But Swiger sees both minimum rates and fixed rates as counterproductive to conserving energy. He asked, "Where's the benefit for consumers to buy solar or go solar?"

PG&E is encouraging anyone confused about the new minimum charges to call them. The move to fixed rates is not likely to happen until 2019.

PG&E Customer Service: 1-800-743-5000

Related Topics:
businessPG&Ehomecalifornia public utilities commissionconsumerconsumer concernsconsumer watchmoneyLivermoreSan FranciscoOaklandSan JoseNovatoSan Bruno
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