Is this a way to limit high California electric bills?
With temperatures soaring and air conditioners working overtime, Californians’ electricity bills are peaking as well. Will a contentious new rate proposal help families, especially those living paycheck to paycheck?
That’s the big question explored by Wendy Fry of CalMatters’ California Divide team. Last year, the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom passed an energy bill requiring the state’s utilities commission to establish an income-based fixed monthly fee.
The state’s three largest electric utility companies — Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric — have suggested a plan that they say would save the lowest income customers about $300 per year on their electric bill. But under the same price restructuring, the companies estimate that households earning more than $180,000 a year would pay an average of $500 more annually.
Critics of the proposal, who include some state Republican lawmakers, argue that the plan would reduce incentives for some customers to conserve electricity. When it comes to verifying incomes, opponents have also raised concerns over the state’s ability to keep personal data secure and private.
Supporters of the plan say the current billing system is unjust and regressive, since low-income customers spend a higher share of their income on electricity. For the most part, Democratic legislators who passed 2022’s energy bill have not spoken about the proposed changes.
The California Public Utilities Commission is expected to decide on the changes by July 1, 2024. According to one administrative judge in the proceedings, the earliest the change could take place is the end of 2026. In the meantime, the public can submit comments or attend a commission meeting.
Speaking of power sources: CalMatters’ climate policy reporter Alejandro Lazo explores electrical vehicles equipped with “bidirectional charging” — a two-way charging technology that could enable owners to sell back energy stored in their car batteries to the electric grid.
The practice would be particularly useful during times of peak energy use, such as heat waves. Currently, only about a half a dozen electric passenger vehicles have bidirectional capabilities, but a Senate bill being considered in the Assembly would require all new electric cars sold in the state to have the technology by 2030.
Critics of the bill argue that the mandate will hike electric car prices and relying on vehicles as a year-round source for power may be impractical. Still, pilot programs are exploring how practical the technology is. The Cajon Valley Union School District in San Diego County used a fleet of electric buses to send excess power back to the grid during last year’s 10-day heat wave, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is conducting a test using Nissan Leafs.
Electric vehicle primer: CalMatters has a lesson-plan-ready version of our explainer on California’s electric vehicle transformation, especially made for teachers, libraries and community groups, as part of the CalMatters for Learning initiative.
CalMatters turns 8: It’s our birthday! This week, CalMatters is marking eight years of informing Californians about policy and politics and holding officials accountable. We have done award-winning work and more is on the horizon. Read more and watch a TikTok from our engagement team. And if you support us now, you can double your donation.
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1 How did CalPERS do in the market?
The pension fund for California’s public employees reported fair to middling investment returns Wednesday.
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System — the largest U.S. public pension fund — said it made 5.8% on its investment portfolio between July 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023. That preliminary number is lower than the goal of 6.8%, but better than the previous year, when CalPERS logged its first investment losses — minus 6.1% — since 2009, during the Great Recession. Those net returns put total assets at $463 billion.
- CalPERS CEO Marcie Frost, in a statement: “Even with the economic challenges that still confront institutional investors, we have been able to maintain our focus on meeting the long-term retirement promises made to our members and their families.”
But the more important number is 72% — how much of its total obligations are funded. CalPERS doesn’t have to write checks to its 2 million members all at once, of course, so even that figure comes with caveats.
Still, that long-term financial outlook is one big reason why CalPERS officials opposed a fossil fuel divestment bill. The measure, which is being held until next year, would require CalPERS and the pension fund for teachers to sell their holdings in the 200 largest publicly traded fossil fuel companies by July 2031 and bar new investments in those companies starting in 2024.
Some other highlights from Wednesday’s report:
- The highest returns, 14.1%, came on public equity, which comprises 45% of all investments.
- Private debt, a new class of investment, returned 6.5%.
- Private equity (-2.3%) and real estate (-3.1%) had negative returns.
2 California goes to D.C.
A couple of high-profile California officials made some buzz Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
A reminder: The state’s budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year includes an additional $2.9 billion for state preschools and boosting child care provider pay over the next two years. The state is also developing a long-term plan to reform how pay rates are calculated and reimbursed.
- Skinner, in a statement: “Child care is absolutely essential. Families have to have child care to return to the workplace. Our entire economy depends on it.”
Increasing funds for child care programs was a top priority this session for the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, also co-led by Skinner. According to Skinner, the state’s investments in child care build on the Biden’s administration American Rescue Plan, which poured billions of federal money to assist child care programs and providers during the pandemic.
And California Attorney General Rob Bonta, 31 other attorneys general and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are teaming up to form the Agricultural Competition Partnership. The group seeks to root out anticompetitive practices, such as price gouging, that hurt consumers.
The formation of the group was announced Wednesday during a White House Competition Council meeting. The agriculture department will provide funds for the participating attorneys general as they “enforce the antitrust laws for the benefits of consumers, producers, and workers in the agricultural space.”
For everyday Californians, this initiative may result in cheaper grocery bills, reports Reuters. During a time of unprecedented inflation on consumer goods, farm groups and lawmakers have raised concerns that food companies are artificially raising prices.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters is away and will return Monday.
Taxpayers should not be on the hook for cleaning up orphaned oil wells, write Cesar Aguirre, oil and gas director at Central California Environmental Justice Network, and Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.
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