| LOS ANGELES, Sept 12
LOS ANGELES, Sept 12 California lawmakers on
Thursday voted to reform the state's electricity rate structure,
a move aimed at lowering bills for high energy consumers in the
state's sweltering inland regions.
The bill, known as AB 327, was backed by the state's three
investor-owned utilities: Southern California Edison, a unit of
Edison International, Pacific Gas & Electric, a unit of
PG&E Corp, and San Diego Gas & Electric, a division of
Sempra Energy. They argued that higher usage customers,
many of which are lower to moderate income households, have
borne the majority of the state's electricity rate increases
since certain restrictions were introduced amid the California
energy crisis 12 years ago.
The reform could ultimately mean that lower energy users
such as those living on the coast see higher energy bills.
The bill also preserves a key policy that supports the
residential solar power industry. Major solar installers
including SolarCity Corp and SunRun had lobbied for
that provision in the bill.
The policy, known as net metering, allows residential solar
customers to sell the excess power their rooftop systems
generate back to the utility at full retail rates. The policy is
critical to making solar an affordable option for consumers.
The new law directs the California Public Utilities
Commission to design a new net metering program that would take
effect in 2017 and also gives the regulator the authority to
require utilities to source more than 33 percent of their power
from renewable sources like wind and solar.
The law, which is expected to be signed by Governor Jerry
Brown, primarily does away with rate restrictions enacted during
the energy crisis of 2001. The state has limitations on rates in
the first two "tiers" of electricity usage. As a result, there
is a large gap between low usage rates and those in the upper
"tiers" that are reserved for those who consume the most
The bill authorizes the CPUC to redesign that rate
structure, preserving at least two tiers of usage.
It also authorizes, but does not mandate, the utilities
regulator to implement a controversial fixed charge of up to $10
a month for residential customers. Several prominent groups,
including the Sierra Club and the California Environmental
Justice Alliance, have opposed the bill because of the fixed
charge provision, saying it is unfair because it cannot be
offset by conserving energy or going solar, and would be an
added burden on low income ratepayers.