Edison goof: some users’ new rates more costly than advertised

As electricity bills rise with temperature, some Southern California Edison customers are starting to add an extra amount starting this month – and it’s something they haven’t seen coming in.

In April, Edison sent a letter to homeowners saying that they were receiving a new rate plan but that their electricity costs would not change.

The notice of a Santa Monica household, reviewed by The Times, shows the old customer rate of $1,030 per year. New rate? Also $1,030 per year, the letter said.

But then a second letter from Edison arrived at the end of July. The new fee that customers have been told will actually be $1,723 per year – a 67% increase to almost $60 a month. The first letter showed “an incorrect rate analysis”, the new letter explains.

The Santa Monica landlord, who doesn’t want to be discovered because of privacy concerns, is not alone. The utility sent similar letters to 3,251 customers.

Although the announcement seemed to blame poor math, Edison spokesman Ron Gales had a different explanation. Gales said the “printing agency mistakenly printed twice” the old rate in the column that should have displayed the new rate.

For bidders that don’t parse every mail from their utility, the increase will come as a nasty surprise in bills this month, when a new “time of use” rate goes into effect. . Over time usage rates, customers pay more for electricity during periods of high demand during the day.

Edison’s handling of the tariff issue has drawn criticism from consumer advocates, who say the state’s utility companies need to do a better job communicating with customers about how their energy bills are handled. Their quality increases if they don’t change their behavior.

“It’s a printing thing not a math thing? It is still their responsibility. It’s a nonsense statement,” said Mark Toney, executive director of the Utilities Reform Network (TURN). “People have a right to be upset when they are told one thing and it turns out to be another.”

Gales said that Edison contacted all customers who switched to a more expensive plan after mailing – only 114 customers made the change – and “added additional checks with the printing agency”.

The mailing mistake comes at a time when many people are likely to see higher electricity bills as they try to stay cool during the warmer summer months by ramping up their air conditioning.

And electricity bills across California have gone up due to higher natural gas costs and the investments needed to reduce wildfire risk.

Against this backdrop, Edison has been in the process of shifting more than 2 million customers to new tariff plans that charge more for energy during peak times. Advocates say low-income people and communities of color are likely to bear the brunt of these changes; they say policymakers and regulators need to do more to make energy fair.

Most people won’t see rates as high as Santa Monica customers, Gales said, and most are expected to benefit under the new plan.

Santa Monica residents are part of a smaller group of about 84,000 people – mostly rooftop solar customers – who are likely to increase their bills.

The new Edison rate plan needs a bit of explanation. California’s power grid is straining to meet demand as climate change means summers are getting hotter and the threat of blackouts looms.

To address the issue, the California Public Utilities Commission asked Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric, and San Diego Gas & Electric to switch most customers to time-of-use plans. Under the new mode, electricity costs are higher during peak hours from 4 to 9 pm

The idea is to encourage less electricity use in a time when solar energy is less abundant. People can save money if they focus on using energy during off-peak hours.

Edison has moved about 2.2 million customers from standard “tiered” plans to subscription plans over time. People have the right to opt out of the timed usage plan and still use the standard plan, and approximately 609,000 residential Edison customers have chosen to do so.

Even if customers make no changes to their energy use, Gales says that 59% are expected to benefit proportionally, and another 20% are expected to benefit. see additional annual costs of less than $30.

Consumer advocates have expressed concern that the plan to use over time is more likely to benefit those who can afford things like smart thermostats and energy-saving appliances. quantity.

“Who is being affected? Who pays more and who pays less? Our big concern is that wealthy people will see their bills go down, and low-income people will see their bills go up,” said Toney of TURN.

“The people with the least control are the lower earners who can’t change their screen time easily,” Liza Tucker, a consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog said. She said policy changes are needed to decentralize the energy grid and “make things fairer,” such as subsidies for solar panels and energy-efficient appliances. for low-income people.

Across California, low-income people are eligible for a discounted electricity bill, but the program is very limited – a household of two, for example, must have an annual income of less than $36,620 to qualify. The Public Utilities Commission did some research on the impact of usage plans over time on people in the rebate program and found that they didn’t change energy usage as much as those on the plan. customers with higher income., especially in hotter climates.

Toney says the PUC must analyze the data more broadly to see how usage rates over time affect low-income people and communities of color, particularly by climate.

Gales, an Edison spokesman, said that about 900,000 low-income and medically vulnerable residential customers were exempted from the time transition.

Although Gales notes that Edison sends customers emails with tips on how to reduce planned energy use over time, advocates point out that the utility does not provide an estimate of the bill. What would everyone’s electricity bill look like if they switched usage to different times – arguably the whole point of time usage planning.

“If the utility didn’t have a technical way to show you that if you changed your behavior, what would your bill look like, of course people would be horrified,” says Consumer Watchdog’s Tucker. “I have to say that SCE is doing a terrible job on the media front.”

But the utility said it didn’t want to go into hypotheticals.

“We would have less confidence in those predictions because they are not based on actual customer usage data,” Gales said.

https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2022-08-09/edison-tells-utility-customers-new-rate-plan-is-more-expensive-than-advertised Edison goof: some users’ new rates more costly than advertised

Edmund DeMarche

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