Tuesday, May 24, 2011

PG&E Proposes Electricity Rate Increases That Harm People With Disabilities

BAD NEWS ALERT: If you are a person with a disability and a Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) customer you may be finding that your electricity bill soon will be more expensive.

On May 26th, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will be hearing public comments on two new proposed rate increases. The first would assess a fixed customer charge for its entire base of residential utility customers.  The second would lower the "baseline" above which customers would pay higher rates for electricity usage.

CFILC recently signed on to a joint letter opposing the rate increases circulated by The Utility Reform Network (TURN), a consumer watchdog group.  The letter states that the proposal, which proposes to "balance" previously-approved rate increases for businesses and higher-usage customers by requiring residential customers to pay more, violates state law.  Current law only allows modest increases over time for lower income customers. 

TURN and Disability Rights Advocates have asked CFILC to testify about why the new fixed charge and lowering of the baselines will disproportionately impact people with disabilities.  The argument is that they would come on top of recent state budget actions that have lowered disability benefits and SSI monthly grants, required Medi-Cal copayments for prescriptions and doctor visits, and require more out of pocket expenses for Durable Medical Equipment and medical supplies.

Lowering the baseline will especially harm people with disabilities who have multiple or complex medical conditions.  Many of these customers with Multiple Sclerosis or heart and lung disabilities are heavily dependent on air conditioning and electricity to filter their air and operate their medical equipment.  These customers have no realistic options to lower their electricity usage.  The simple truth is that many will be unable to afford the increase rates and may default on their bills and face electricity shut downs.

The proposal is designed to conserve electricity, but it is an unrealistic goal for people with disabilities who tend to be low- to moderate-income earners with very basic electricity use needs.  Others who live in HUD-subsidized housing that use electricity as heating sources simply cannot control home energy conservation.

It is possible that votes on the proposal may be postponed until early June.  However, if you act NOW you can send an email to the CPUC by May 26th to oppose the rate increases.  Just go to the CPUC website at www.cpuc.ca.gov and link the Public Advisor tab that gives you easy-to-follow instructions. 

There is still time for your voice to be heard.  Those who can least afford even more household budget increases should not be forced, once again, to bear unfair burdens.

No comments:

Post a Comment