With energy fees at an all-time high in California, San Diego Gas & Electric proposed an increase in its minimum bill charge from $10 to $38, a nearly quadruple increase. According to the San Diego Tribune, the California Public Utilities Commission fortunately shot this down, but this proposal brings up two compelling questions: how is raising the minimum bill keeping the state affordable and how does a rule like this assist California in meeting its environmental goals?
First, affordability. California is becoming increasingly less affordable, and there is a widening rich-poor gap. California already places a high tax on fuel prices, which in turn increases the cost of basic necessities like food or fuel for going to work. Increasing the minimum fee would negatively impact customers with lower incomes, creating an even bigger burden on their lifestyles as they are already forced to balance the rising cost of living in the state.
Second, how does increasing the minimum bill help California meet its aggressive environmental goals? The short answer is: it doesn’t. As Joyce Lane, public policy co-chair of San Diego 350, pointed out in the article “For people who are really trying to conserve electricity, to force them to pay a much higher bill, people starting figuring, ‘Well, if I have to pay this much higher bill anyway, I may as well use more electricity.’” A minimum is also counterproductive for those consumers who have already invested in alternative energy sources and have gone to great strides to lower their bill.
These issues don’t begin to contemplate the potential financial fallout from COVID-19, from a national and personal economic standpoint. Politicians and regulators should look for solutions that keep California both environmentally and economically viable for everyone.