NEWS Opinion: More big PG&E rate hikes if use of outdated system continues


For the orig­i­nal, click here.

Opin­ion: Daniel M Kamen

If you live in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, your util­ity bill likely will rise by 8% this month. For Pacific Gas & Elec­tric cus­tomers, this will be the sev­enth year in a row of increases. The company’s rates have dou­bled since 2005 — and they’re going to get much worse unless PG&E changes its ways.

Sim­ply put, util­i­ties are spend­ing too much money on the same out­dated, unre­li­able sys­tem. Energy con­sumers are forced to rely on power plants in far-​​away places to dis­trib­ute energy on an expen­sive maze of poles and wires to power our homes. We’ve already seen how run­ning power lines through remote forests can spark mas­sive, deadly wildfires.image

But we have the tech­nol­ogy today to reduce the risk of wild­fires, lower elec­tric­ity bills and pro­vide reli­able clean energy. The solu­tion is sim­ple: Gen­er­ate and share more energy where it’s being used. The ben­e­fits are tremen­dous: Higher lev­els of reli­a­bil­ity, flex­i­ble and smarter sys­tems, improved envi­ron­men­tal qual­ity and huge envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice wins for front­line and under-​​served communities.

This is Cal­i­for­nia, the land of inno­va­tion and new ideas. Yet util­i­ties in the state are plan­ning to spend $15 bil­lion over the next two years on out­dated energy tech­nolo­gies. They need to pivot to invest in decar­boniza­tion, effi­ciency and energy stor­age. It’s for their own and their cus­tomers’ finan­cial well-​​being.

From this spend­ing binge, the worst is yet to come. Cal­i­for­nia reg­u­la­tors expect rates to go up 20%-40% in just the next three years.  As we rebuild after a pan­demic, who will be able to afford this?

Gov. Gavin New­som deserves praise for his com­mit­ment to clean elec­tric­ity. While util­i­ties are poised to spend bil­lions of dol­lars that will only lead to rate hikes, we have bet­ter solu­tions that reduce rates for everyone.

Solar and wind are the least-​​cost forms of gen­er­a­tion, so let us tar­get invest­ments there instead. A study put together by Dr. Christo­pher Clack, a weather sci­en­tist for­merly with the National Oceanic and Atmos­pheric Admin­is­tra­tion, found that an energy sys­tem built around local solar and bat­ter­ies could save the United States $473 bil­lion by 2050. A model devel­oped in my lab­o­ra­tory comes to the same conclusion.

We’re already see­ing the ben­e­fits of local solar and bat­ter­ies here in Cal­i­for­nia. In 2018, California’s Inde­pen­dent Sys­tem Oper­a­tor can­celed $2.6 bil­lion in util­ity spend­ing thanks to local solar and effi­ciency improvements.

We should be encour­ag­ing this because the peo­ple who are hurt most by rate hikes are always those who can least afford it. Low-​​income com­mu­ni­ties also face the high­est pol­lu­tion expo­sure lev­els from gen­er­a­tion of carbon-​​based energy.

It is no secret that the cur­rent util­ity busi­ness model of “the more you spend, the more you profit” is bro­ken. It’s time to inno­vate and put com­mu­ni­ties and peo­ple at the cen­ter of the solu­tion. Local clean energy will boost the econ­omy, cre­ate jobs and make elec­tric­ity cleaner and more afford­able for everyone.

New­som recently called for a “new par­a­digm” for how we pro­duce and dis­trib­ute energy. He chal­lenged pol­i­cy­mak­ers to make energy more local and to look at clean energy tech­nol­ogy such as rooftop solar and bat­ter­ies. We can meet that challenge.

UC Berkeley’s Daniel Kam­men is pro­fes­sor and chair of the Energy and Resources Group, pro­fes­sor in the Gold­man School of Pub­lic Pol­icy, and pro­fes­sor of Nuclear Engi­neer­ing. Twit­ter: @dan_kammen

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