San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Although it occurred nearly two years ago, Dennis Phillips doesn’t have to think very hard to remember California’s energy crisis. The owner of lamp shop Lighting Elegance in Covina has felt its effects ever since.
“When electric bills jumped up real high last year, it was sizably higher,’ Phillips recalled. “To get some relief from that would help.’ For Phillips, whose single-employee store generates about $12,000 in sales each month, a nearly 50-percent increase in his monthly power bills severely hurt the store’s bottom line.
Prior to last year, for instance, the shop’s summer bills averaged $600 to $650 per month. But last summer, retail rate hikes imposed by the California Public Utilities Commission to offset spikes in wholesale rates jumped Lighting Elegance’s monthly bill to more than $900. Even with store lights turned off and air conditioning turned down except when customers are present, Phillips’ winter bills have risen nearly as much, approaching the rates he used to pay in the summer.
This year, though, Phillips and thousands of other Southern California business owners finally may see a decrease in their commercial power bills.
Rosemead-based Southern California Edison, the state’s No. 2 energy supplier, has proposed rate reductions ranging on average from 8 percent to 26 percent for larger-use residential and small- to large-use businesses.
The new rates aren’t a sure thing, though. Reductions must still be approved by the CPUC, probably in early summer. After that, SCE would not implement the new rates until the company finishes recouping the nearly billions of dollars it lost during the power shortage, according to spokesman Gil Alexander.
If approved, customers likely would see smaller bills within one month after Edison recoups the debt, but even the 26-percent decrease for customers consuming more than 500 kilowatts at least one day a month won’t return rates to their pre- crisis levels, Alexander said.
“The long-term power contracts that the state signed at the height of the crisis are still in place and being paid off,’ he said.
The proposed reduction still fails to meet what consumers need, though, argues Doug Heller, a senior consumer advocate for The Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights in Santa Monica, a watchdog group that has decried the high surcharges since their inception by the CPUC. He said rates should have dropped about 18 months ago, when wholesale prices first began to fall.
“Inevitably, it’s too little too late,’ Heller said. “When those prices fell, consumers should have felt relief as well. Instead, Edison held on to our money.
“They are hoping consumers will forget the billions of dollars we paid to bail Edison out,’ he said. “It’s not enough. It continues to be a fight get back what truly belongs to the California consumer.’ For his part, Phillips said he was grateful for the nearly $100 he likely would save from his monthly power bill. But the decrease probably wouldn’t be large enough to increase his store’s consumption.
“I guess I’ll just keep that hundred bucks for myself,’ he said.