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Electric Car Owners Miffed As SDG&E Revokes Low Rates

Photo by We Like Cars, Flickr

The plug-in electric vehicle Nissan Leaf parked in a lot on September 20, 2012.

Aired 6/20/14 on KPBS News.

SDG&E promised a group of electric-car owners a reduced rate through the end of 2014 to be part of a study, then doubled their rates without warning.

San Diego Gas & Electric promised a group of electric-car owners a reduced rate through the end of 2014 to charge their cars, then doubled those rates last month without warning.

As part of an SDG&E study, 430 drivers were given special rates for charging their plug-in electric vehicles, or PEVs. The study ended in 2013. But Poway resident David Kern, who was part of the study, received a letter in October 2013 from SDG&E telling him the rates would be extended through Dec. 31, 2014.


SDG&E Letter Promising PEV Rate

SDG&E Letter Promising PEV Rate

A letter from SDG&E promising some electric vehicle drivers a certain price rate through December 31, 2014.

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So he was surprised when he opened his latest bill and saw it had doubled. While he had previously paid about $45 a month for charging his electric car — a price calculated from three different rates depending on when he charged his car — he was now billed $91. He quickly saw that the reason was each of his three rates had almost doubled.

Kern said he called SDG&E and was told his lower rate schedule had ended. He said he reached an employee who worked on the study who told him it was a case of one department not knowing what another department had promised.

He knew the lower rates would eventually end, Kern said, but "I was expecting to have some time to react by knowing what the rates were going to be. That was the deal they had made with us."

Kern said he talked to an attorney but because the number of affected drivers is so small he was told it wouldn't be worth pursuing litigation.

"It's a state monopoly, and unfortunately they can take advantage of the little guy because there's nothing really you can do," he said. "As a consumer, I'm just stuck with whatever they say."

SDG&E spokeswoman Erin Coller acknowledged the rates were raised with little warning. Coller initially said a letter warning of the increase was sent, "but not as early as it should have been." She added that some customers might have received the letters around the same time as their increased bills.

Kern said he never received the letter. And Coller later corrected herself, saying the letter sent to Kern and his fellow electric-car owners was only being mailed Thursday, and she gave KPBS a copy of it.

She said the October 2013 letter Kern received promising, "that you have the opportunity to continue on your current pricing plan through the end of next year, Dec. 31, 2014, or switch to another one that could save you money," was a mistake.

"That's what we thought the case was, but there was a mistake," Coller said. "We should have communicated about this earlier, and we do apologize for that."

She said while SDG&E customers are usually required to stay on one rate plan for 12 months, the utility will make an exception for these affected customers and allow them to switch to another plan. She also stressed that only some customers in the study, not all SDG&E customers with electric vehicles, would see their rates increased to the degree that Kern's increased.

The SDG&E study was part of a two-year California Public Utilities Commission pilot project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Its aim was to find out whether a fee schedule that cut the price to charge an electric car during off-peak hours would encourage PEV owners to charge their cars in the evenings or at night. The drivers were organized into three groups with the ratio between charging during the day and at night set at either 2-to-1, 4-to-1, or 6-to-1.

The idea was to find out whether customers would avoid peak hours — when the utility grid is most taxed — if they were offered cheaper rates. It found they would.

While Kern enjoyed the opportunity to be in the study, he said he now feels mistreated by SDG&E.

"It's not that the new rates are unfair, but committing to a rate schedule and then not honoring it is unfair," he said. "They never said anything in advance, they didn't give us a 60-day notice, they just changed it and didn't say anything."

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Avatar for user 'DevonSowell'

DevonSowell | June 19, 2014 at 6:39 p.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

"It's a state monopoly..." that's the problem right there

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Avatar for user 'SalULoyd'

SalULoyd | June 19, 2014 at 7:39 p.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

Craaap company SDG &E. Their commercials about helping people are pure bs.

Yes, Devon and what the blank happened with that energy company circa 1999 (I forget the name but it had windmills on its advertisements.) that was suppose to compete with SDG & E???

And for all you free marketeers out there, is is also the result of state de-regulation.

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Avatar for user 'Ungibungi'

Ungibungi | June 19, 2014 at 9:10 p.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

Not sure why these guys are surprised . SDG&E has been screwing their customers in San Diego since the beginning with the state's blessing .. And the PUC is entirely worthless because it certainly appears that they are all in bed together.

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Avatar for user 'reefer'

reefer | June 20, 2014 at 9:12 a.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

I received this letter stating that my experimental rates had been extended till Dec 2014. I heard this story on KPBS this morning, checked my account, sure enough my rates have been doubled also…..and no I did not get another letter letting me know that my rates were going up.

Thanks for the blind-side SDGE !!!!!!!!!

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Avatar for user 'mshah1202'

mshah1202 | June 20, 2014 at 9:39 a.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

Same story for Home Battery Backup solution. SDG&E wants me to pay $600 to install a second meter when in fact my EV, PV, Battery will manage load much better for them. It is a shame that CPUC is not able to see thru all these tactics. BTW, Sempra stock has appreciated 30% in a year and I am guessing lot of that is coming from ratepayers.

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Avatar for user 'Syntropic'

Syntropic | June 20, 2014 at 10:27 a.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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Avatar for user 'cultoclock'

cultoclock | June 20, 2014 at 11:36 a.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

It's good to remember that SDG&E is a Sempra Energy utility and they were involved in the notorious price gouging that crippled states. Leopards don't change their spots.

Just received a letter from SDG&E telling of the rate increases. I have solar. They charge $0.44 per kWh for on-peak. They buy back whatever I produce that I don't use. How much do they pay me? Pennies for each kWh on-peak energy I provide them. Sooner or later they'll have a day in court unless they keep buying off our politicians as they are known to do regularly.

They'll work their way back to price gouging again. Be sure of it!

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Avatar for user 'Kimberley'

Kimberley | June 20, 2014 at 12:10 p.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

My husband and I experienced the exact same thing with our 2011 Nissan Leaf. We received a letter late last year stating that we could continue the preferential tiered rate structure through 2014. Because of the tiered rates offered, we did not move the car meter onto our solar grid. Then last month we were blind-sided with a very high bill and that was when we first found out our rates had more than doubled, going up to over $.73 per kWh at peak hours. If a class action is not viable, is there a state agency in which to register a complaint for breach of contract?

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Avatar for user 'brandonsd'

brandonsd | June 20, 2014 at 2:05 p.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

Same issue with me. I called last month, and was told that my rates did not change. They chalked it up to the difference between winter and summer generation (but I think it was more of the rep not knowing the real answer).

But if SDG&E made the error, they should at least offer service credits for their mistake and their (self admitted) misinformation to rate payers on these special plans.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | June 20, 2014 at 2:33 p.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

Ha ha, good thing I didn't buy into that "green" vehicle sham.

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Avatar for user 'AceL'

AceL | June 22, 2014 at 11:58 a.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

OK, this article is a bit deceptive. As the article stated, SDG&E had three rate programs for EV owners. Some people got very very low rates, while others, like myself, received rates that weren't much different than regular electric rates.

When my program ended, my rates didn't change, because I was already paying market rates.

The people who are complaining got rates that were 3x lower than everyone else during the experimental rate period, if they charged between midnight and 6am.

Now their rates are going up to market rate, and they are whining because they have to pay the same as everyone else.

Please clarify that these whiners were the ones who got the absolute rock bottom rates that no one else received.

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Avatar for user 'Claire Trageser'

Claire Trageser, KPBS Staff | June 22, 2014 at 6:42 p.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

Hi AceL, sorry you didn't find the article clear. I think this sentence, "She also stressed that only some customers in the study, not all SDG&E customers with electric vehicles, would see their rates increased to the degree that Kern's increased," addresses your concerns.

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Avatar for user 'glennyounger'

glennyounger | June 22, 2014 at 10:59 p.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

Protected utilities are given so many benefits, the way that they raise rates (not just those mentioned in the article), is just poor customer service.

Our business rates went up $600 for May, with less Kw usage than April. HUGE rate jump. Their customer service tried to blame it on warmer weather and more air conditioning usage, but it was not until they were saw the KW usage themselves, did they admit to a rate hike.

Come on SDG&E and Sempra you can do better. You have the PUC to potect you. Just tell us when the rates are going up. At least pretend you know what is going on.

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Avatar for user 'gte574j'

gte574j | June 27, 2014 at 1:48 p.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

I was certainly not aware of 'special' rates, but am very disappointed in SDG&Es rates for super off-peak. I received a notice in the mail yesterday raising these rates. That's a rate raise in 10 months which I believe is not lawful.

Big business aside, EVs charging at super off-peak should not be paying more than 5 cents/kWh. If you went to CAISOs pricing matrix you would find negative pricing during these hours, at certain times, with an average of around 3-4 cents. Remember since SDG&E charges a 'distribution' (connection) cost which is based on kWh rather than kW they are in a sense double dipping for EV owners. Other utilities e.g. those in Arizona or NV charge 5-8 cents/kWh at super off peak while SDG&E charges 17 cents. Certainly something to bring to the PUC since their profit margin is >400%.

Note the argument by the US Government & Govn't institutions such as Sandia Labs or industry funded EPRI which made the case for EVs back in 2000 did so under the guise of energy independence. The pitch was we could power 50-60% of the cars in the US with the energy wasted at night, figure that was equivalent to 100% of US oil imports. Now SDG&E comes around and tells us that their generation costs are the same and provides us little to no incentive to charge during night time hours.

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Avatar for user 'brandonsd'

brandonsd | July 3, 2014 at 2:37 p.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

As an update...I think so many people complained that SDG&E is going to issue service credits to essentially allow you to pay the experimental rate Dept of Energy study participants were under until December 2014. At that point, you will need to update your plan or revert to the standard EV time of use plans. In the next bill, they stated there would be a retroactive credit back to April when the rates were changed (without notification).

Super rough roll out from SDG&E -- they should have known better. But glad to see that they're finally honoring their previous commitments.

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