Community members want answers from San Diego City Council over high SDG&E bills
San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) has among the highest energy bills in the country. In January, SDG&E experienced a 114% natural gas rate hike, or about $120 a month increase for a typical customer.
A coalition made up of several consumer, energy and political groups held a protest Monday asking the San Diego City Council to hold a public hearing of the region’s devastating surge in natural gas prices.
“We’re here today because in the last month San Diego has suffered an unnatural disaster, a natural gas spike,” said Craig Rose of with Public Power San Diego, an organization that advocates for a publicly owned, nonprofit power utility. “What makes matters worse is that we already had 340,000 utility customers, one in four, behind in their payments coming into the situation, so this will only add to their angst.”
Two years ago, the San Diego City Council hired SDG&E and signed a 10 year franchise agreement. Rose said now the City Council must exercise its oversight responsibility and start with investigating the latest price spikes.
“We need public hearings with a purpose, three purposes,” Rose said. “What happened with natural gas prices? What has been the extent of the damage? And what can we do to prevent this from ever happening again?”
According to Rose, no other utility in the west has imposed a rate increase anywhere near SDG&E’s and according to federal data, SDG&E’s gas inventory fell dramatically coming into the heavy heating season.
“The real question is, ‘What did the utility do to protect us against this kind of volatility?’ We need to hear from outside experts. We need to hear more from SDG&E. We need to learn more so that this is less likely to happen again,” Rose said.
Protect Our Communities Foundation is suing the city of San Diego and SDG&E over the franchise agreement. Board president Lori Saldaña said it violates the rights of San Diegans. She also said the city must also follow through and form an oversight and compliance committee.
“They have yet to fully appoint people to that. They promised that a year and a half ago,” Saldaña said.
Saldaña said by letting a fossil fuel company expand their business, the city of San Diego is ignoring its climate action plan.
“(SDG&E makes) millions of dollars a day in profits and they use that money to invest in their parent corporation, Sempra's fossil fuel infrastructure,” Saldaña said.
The coalition at the protest urged City Council to press SDG&E for a moratorium on utility cutoffs and a ban on reporting delinquencies to credit agencies.
“This affects our entire community, not just people who have housing, but increasingly the thousands who are unhoused and unsheltered and a driving reason for that is their inability to pay their bills,” Saldaña said.
SDG&E said the price for natural gas in February has declined by 68%. The utility will continue to analyze how January’s rate changes may impact bills and provide updates.