By George L. Strasser
Last summer I received a Pacific Gas & Electric bill that knocked my sandals off. I decided to compare Fresno's electricity rates with other hot cities. I discovered that Fresno's rates are absurdly high.
As of this January, it costs $241.93 to use 1,000 kilowatt hours a month in Fresno. That much juice costs $121 in Las Vegas, $111.83 in Phoenix, and only $83 in Tucson. Are you surprised?
The cost of 1,000 Kwh is $125.05 in Sacramento, $119 in Orlando, $108.61 in Chicago, $100.17 in Salt Lake City, $95.37 in Atlanta, $88.04 in Memphis, $87.99 in San Antonio, and just $63.09 in St. Louis.
So what's up with PG&E? It uses a rate system with five tiers, each more expensive than the next. The lowest tier is 11.88 cents. The highest is 47.39 cents per kilowatt hour after the first 1,070 Kwh.
Most cities have tiered rates. Tucson has three tiers. Its highest tier is reached after 3,500 Kwh, when the rate goes up to 11.3 cents per kilowatt hour. That's less than Fresno's lowest tier.
If we use 3,000 Kwh in a month, the cost in Fresno is $1,156.61. But 3,000 Kwh costs only $269 in Tucson, $400.37 in Phoenix, and $347.34 in Las Vegas. It costs $465.45 in Sacramento, $257.28 in Mobile, $274.50 in Houston, and only $164.85 in Tampa.
PG&E has a new "SmartMeter" option. If you sign up for it, on 15 "smart days," (hot days) when electricity is in short supply, PG&E will charge 60 cents more per hour on top of the 47.39 cent rate, for a total charge per Kwh of $1.07, from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. The reward for this will be a reduction of the off-peak rate, down to (ahem), about 43 cents per Kwh for the top tier.
In other words, PG&E has a plan to use SmartMeters to charge you an insane additional 60 cents per Kwh on top of its already insane rate of 47.39 cents per hour on the very hottest days, when you need your air conditioner the most!
A SmartMeter option is also available in Phoenix. If a customer signs up for it, the highest peak rate is 21.6 cents from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., in return for an off-peak rate of just 5.4 cents per Kwh.
My wife and I moved to Fresno in 1975. We raised three kids here. I can tell you that for decades it did not cost an arm and a leg to stay comfortable in the summer. Now it does.
The Public Utilities Commission has kept rates down for the lowest tiers, so many PG&E customers in cooler areas have not seen an increase in their already low electricity bills.
But, last summer, with very little notice, the highest tier rate was raised an incredible 23%. That's why we now pay 47.39 cents per Kwh after the first 1,070 Kwh. This is the reason why last summer some people in Fresno had $500, $700, or even $1,000 PG&E bills. Brace yourself, because it will happen again.
Now, imagine you are a major employer, and you are thinking about moving a business to Fresno. Would you move here if you knew that you and your employees would pay thousands of dollars more for electricity in the coming years?
Can anything be done? The short answer is no. The Public Utilities Commission doesn't care, obviously.
You could sell your old house and buy a brand new smaller well-insulated home, but that is not the solution for most people. So, my advice if you want to pay less for electricity this summer is to empty your pool, and then buy a swamp cooler and some candles.
Or move just about anywhere else.