The California Public Utilities Commission voted Dec. 17 to allow Pacific Gas & Electric Company to increase by 95 percent its "exit fee," a monthly charge levied on customers who leave PG&E for other providers. Large numbers of people are expected to exit PG&E for "community choice" energy programs, which give consumers the option to buy more electric energy from renewable sources at competitive rates.
The fee hike is opposed by many proponents of the "community choice" programs. Menlo Park's City Council recently voted to oppose the increase in a letter to the CPUC that said the hike would "profoundly affect the viability" and financial appeal of community choice programs.
The fee will rise to 2.32 cents from 1.16 cents per kilowatt hour, which, for the average customer of a community choice program, such as Marin Clean Energy, would mean a jump to about $13 a month, from $6.70.
Called a "Power Charge Indifference Adjustment," the fee, says PG&E, is intended to ensure that ex-customers "pay their share of costs for energy that was acquired by PG&E to serve them prior to their departure," PG&E says. The fee's purpose, the utility says, is "to ensure that PG&E's remaining customers do not bear any cost created by departing customers who receive their electricity" from another provider.
A Dec. 18 email from Kirsten Pringle of San Mateo County's Office of Sustainability told people not to fear the county's Peninsula Clean Energy program is still viable. Researchers who conducted the program's feasibility study factored in an increased exit fee, she said. Plus, she added, current energy prices are lower than what was assumed in the technical study.
"The County does not foresee the PCIA fee increase having any significant impact on the launch or overall financial viability of Peninsula Clean Energy," she said.
However, the email also noted that the decision "does have major implications for the viability of CCE (community choice energy) programs in California."
According to the California Alliance for Community Energy, an advocacy group for clean energy in California, PG&E "continued to procure electricity for customers even when it was clear that they would be departing for their local Community Choice program" and continues to expect former customers to subsidize energy they won't use.
● Earlier story: Menlo Park may oppose PG&E fee hike.