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Electric Bill Increase or Fairer Calif. Power Rates?

A fight is brewing at the state Capitol over legislation that would give the California Public Utilities Commission the ability to set a flat fee of up to $10 a month on electricity bills.

Legislation that could add a flat fee of up to $10 a month on some California electric bills is up for a key committee vote Friday. The measure has support from utilities and consumer groups – but it’s sparking pushback from environmental advocates.

Right now, California electric rates are based on several tiers of usage. So the more energy you use, the more you pay. But because some hot-weather parts of the state use much more power than others, they end up paying more. So Fresno Democratic Assemblyman Henry Perea negotiated legislation with utilities and consumer groups that would allow the California Public Utilities Commission to charge everyone a flat fee of up to $10 – thus alleviating some of the pressure on the highest tiers of energy use.

“That’s why the customer charge is important, because it allows for everybody to pay a portion of their fair share, in addition to what we all already do – and that’s pay for the basic cost of generating energy,” Perea said.

But environmental groups said the flat fee would discourage rooftop solar and other energy-saving practices and programs. After all, what's the point in spending all that money up front on solar panels if you'll have to pay the flat fee anyway?

The Sierra Club’s Kathryn Phillips said utilities like PG&E and Southern California Edison have an ulterior motive. “They have a plan to reduce public investment in efficiency and solar. And one way to do that is make it so that you can’t control your bills by investing in your own clean energy and investing in efficiency,” Phillips said.

The measure is one of dozens awaiting action by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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