There are a number of factors contributing to rising electricity bills, including increasing wildfire prevention efforts, rising gas prices, and wildfire insurance costs, which have not gone unnoticed by some of Southern California Edison’s (SCE) 15 million customers.
Ron Gales, a spokesperson for the utility, said that efforts to prevent SCE’s power lines from sparking new fires in the state are also partly to blame.
“Southern California Edison wants to make sure that we are not the cause of any other catastrophic wildfires,” he said.
SCE was fined more than $550 million last December for faulty equipment that sparked five wildfires in the state in 2017 and 2018, including the so-called Woolsey and Thomas fires, which destroyed about 350,000 acres combined.
Under terms of the agreement with the California Public Utilities Commission, SCE shareholders will pay a $110 million penalty and contribute $65 million to safety measures. SCE, however, can’t ask customers to cover $375 million in insurance claim recoveries.
Fines and penalties incurred by SCE are not reflected in recent rate increases, but are instead necessary for the utility to prevent any new wildfires in the future, Gales said.
“Reduction [of fire] risk is really a huge driver” of recent rate increases, Gales said. “[We are] taking measures to do as much as possible to make sure that our electric infrastructure is not associated with igniting any of these [types of] catastrophic wildfires.”
SCE began investing in reducing the wildfire risks after the wave of catastrophic fires began in 2017. The utility has insulated over 6,000 miles of power lines to prevent ignition when lines are blown by strong winds or make contact with flammable material. SCE has also trimmed thousands of acres of vegetation in high-fire-risk areas and has installed more fire-resistant poles.
Additionally, Gales said the increasing price of natural gas is also affecting rates, as many electric power plants rely on it to generate power.
He also said the utilities’ inclusion in what’s called the Community Choice Aggregation programs, where residents purchase electricity from a city or county and it's delivered by SCE, are to blame.
Some costs associated with the program were not reflected last winter on some customers’ bills, according to Gales, and are just showing up now.
Whatever the causes, customers aren’t happy.
In Hermosa Beach, for example, resident Kris Voight said his monthly bill went from normally less than a hundred dollars to $325 in January.
“To me, gas [as a utility] seems cheaper, but CA is pushing everyone to [go] electric. Doesn’t make sense, ” Voight said on Next Door, a neighborhood social media platform.
Robert Rosales from Gardena also expressed frustration over his latest high electricity bill.
“My bill doubles. I usually pay substantially less in the winter months,” Rosales posted recently, also on NextDoor.
Don Corrieri, who lives in a two-bedroom Redondo Beach apartment with his wife, said his bill had skyrocketed from $100 or so to $165 last December and it went up about $50 more in January.
“We’ve never had a bill about $120 or so until this year. ... It just gets very difficult because it’s not so transparent when you look at the bill. It’s very difficult to read,” Corrieri told The Epoch Times.
Corrieri said he has a space heater, but he and his wife barely used it due to its high energy demand.
Others say they’ve upgraded to so-called “energy efficient” appliances, but they’ve still seen their rates go up.
“I changed my TV [and] my refrigerator, and my bills have still been this crazy,” said another SCE customer, also from Redondo Beach, who asked to be identified as Jane.
According to Jane, her electricity bill in November was $99 and it jumped to $207 in December. Ultimately, she said, it increased to $337 in January.
“That makes no sense,” she said.
For SCE’s part, the utility says some of the rate increases are going toward the cost of wildfire insurance, which has increased by a factor of seven since 2017.
Rates will continue to increase in 2022, Gales said, as SCE also works toward zero-emission goals and natural gas prices continue to rise, according to Gales.
“Another thing California is doing is ... trying to reduce greenhouse gases,” Gales said. “There's a lot of investment in the electric grid to make the electrical grid cleaner and more carbon-free.”
To help customers financially impacted by the pandemic, SCE is distributing $205 million to help customers pay electricity bill debts incurred between March 4, 2020, and June 15, 2021.
SCE estimates that 260,000 eligible residential customers are eligible for one-time credits on their February or March bills to partially reduce past due balances. No action is required for customers.