SAN FRANCISCO - FAIR California, a new consortium of consumer, labor, environmental, senior, small business and rights-based organizations, staged a very public protest at the headquarters of the California Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco Wednesday morning. They question if Pacific Gas & Electric and the state's Public Utilities Commission is about to take a step too far.
The gathered group chanted, "Hey Hey, Ho Ho, unfair rates have got to go."
FAIR California's stated mission is to enhance rate and safety accountability for customers of all for-profit utilities, most especially PG&E. They chanted again just before the speakers took the podium. "What do we want? Fair rates. When do we want them? Now!"
Their case was powerful and dizzying.
"Over the past three years Bay Area residents have suffered from very high inflation. But, during that same time, our PG&E bills have skyrocketed at three times that very high rate of inflation and now this company wants more," said San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu.
Former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said this, "PG&E is asking for a General Rate Case increase of 26% of the rates we're paying." "$80 a month increase since the beginning of this year. Yeah, and the CPUC is ready to add another $40 a month on top of that," said Mark Toney, Executive Director of consumer advocacy group TURN, The Utility Reform Network.
PG&E has already filed numerous other rate requests at the CPUC it hopes will be granted next year. "They spent millions of dollars on lobbyists. They have dished out big pay and compensation packages for their executives," said Matthew Ajiake, President of the San Francisco Black Chamber of Commerce.
While PG&E is certainly responsible for a lot of the bad things that have happened, a lot of it was approved, in advance by the California Public Utilities Commission which itself needs a thorough review and rehabilitation. "The first step to get out of a hole is to stop digging it. And, the PUC keeps digging deeper and deeper holes for California's rate payers," said former Sierra Club Director Carl Pope.
"We should, on the other hand, have the confidence that the utilities and the Commission that regulates those utilities are focused on our best interests," said Rita Saens of the California chapter of AARP, the American Association of Retired People. "Safety and affordability and the CPUC need to hold the company accountable," said Meg-Anne Prior of the Operating Engineers union.
Rates look to continue upwards of 3% to 4% each year through 2026 at best.