Electricity lines at sunset in El Segundo, Calif., on Aug. 31, 2022. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)
A group of Democratic legislators in California submitted legislation Jan. 30 to repeal the state’s new income-based utility fees system
that could cost most residents as much as $830 more each year.
California became the first in the nation to pass such a program
in 2022 in an effort to lower bills for low-income residents.
The new law requires the state’s utilities to develop an income-based rate system and present it to the California Public Utilities Commission for approval by July.
Most authors of the repeal—Assembly Bill (AB) 1999
—approved the legislation to create the program, but have now had second thoughts.
Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, who co-authored the new bill, called for the repeal because of rising utility rates, she said during a news conference
“Our constituents have had enough and so have we!” Ms. Irwin said. “It’s time to put some reasoning back into how we charge for electricity in California.”
Electricity rates have skyrocketed in the state over the last decade. Pacific Gas & Electric rates have increased 127 percent, while Edison’s have risen 91 percent and San Diego Gas & Electric’s have gone up by 72 percent, according to Ms. Irwin.
The new rate policy would require the state’s Public Utilities Commission to evaluate each taxpayer’s income every year to assess a fee. Such could create an impractical and costly administrative burden, according to Ms. Irwin.
The new rate fee schedule could “actually result in increased usage by some Californians,” Ms. Irwin said in the news conference. She additionally said affected ratepayers should be able to weigh in on the new fees.
She did not return a request for comment.
Despite voting for the program two years ago, Sen. Scott Wiener, a coauthor of AB 1999, called the income-based billing program “outrageous,” saying it “needed to be withdrawn.”
“Millions of Californians would pay as much as $830 more for electricity than they do now,” Mr. Wiener said during the news conference. “Not just wealthy people, middle-class and working-class people. Anyone who can’t prove they are low-income” will pay more.
Mr. Wiener estimated residents could be charged a fixed rate of $51 to $73, depending on their income, plus a variable rate for electricity use on top of that.
The threshold to qualify for relief from electricity bills is $60,000 annually or less for a family of four, he added. A family of four making just over that would have to pay the higher fixed-charge rate.
California State Sen. Scott Wiener speaks at a hearing in Sacramento on June 21, 2022. (California State Assembly/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)
“This is not acceptable,” Mr. Wiener said.
The flip-flop by legislators who originally voted in favor of the program has upset several organizations statewide, according to Zach MacQuarrie, spokesman for the Predictable Power Coalition, a group that advocates for social justice and organized labor in California.
“Quite frankly, we’re upset that these legislators voted to start this process to support these disadvantaged communities and bring them relief want to take that relief away,” Mr. MacQuarrie told The Epoch Times.
The coalition has been engaged in the income-based billing program from the start.
The proposal “ensures an equitable and just clean-energy” transition for the state, Mr. MacQuarrie added.
The idea was to ensure the cost of adding to the state’s electricity grid to meet climate goals doesn’t fall on low-income and disadvantaged residents who can’t afford to buy solar power systems, for instance, he said.
“Legislators need to stand by the disadvantaged and low-income communities in California,” Mr. MacQuarrie said.
Other agencies supporting the income-based billing program include the San Francisco-based consumer advocacy group The Utility Reform Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental advocacy nonprofit organization.
The state already offers discounted rates for low-income Californians through the California Alternate Rates Energy (CARE
) program. Those who qualify receive a 30-percent to 35-percent discount on their electric bills and a 20-percent discount on natural gas bills.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said the governor looks forward to seeing a proposal that is “consistent with” the original income-based billing law, according to Sacramento-based television news station KCRA.
“California must combat climate change by rapidly expanding the use of clean electricity in our vehicles and buildings, while at the same time making it more affordable for low-income Californians,” Alex Stack, a spokesman for the governor’s office told the news station.