Erica Etelson, CALIFORNIA CURRENT
Last month, the California Public Utilities Commission kicked off what is expected to be a long and arduous process of reforming the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment. The PCIA is an ongoing fee that California investor-owned utilities impose on departing ratepayers. That is, those of us who switch to a Community Choice energy program or procure electricity from a Direct Access retailer must pony up money every month to compensate the private utilities for losses associated with stranded contracts they’ve entered (or claim to have entered) on our behalf.
Much to the surprise of community choice customers, the PCIA seems to have achieved immortality. Whereas the operating assumption was that this charge, approved last December, would ramp down and eventually disappear as stranded contracts expire, the opposite has occurred. Pacific Gas & Electric now projects that it will levy this charge on Marin Clean Energy customers until 2043.
The California Alliance for Community Energy is calling for the sun setting of the PCIA within three years of the launch of a community choice program and for the immediate cessation of the PCIA for low-income CARE customers. In our view, no amount of technocratic tinkering under the auspices of an agency as partial to the monopoly utilities as the CPUC will render the PCIA tolerable to community choice programs and their customers.
PG&E will collect an estimated $119 million in PCIA charges from community choice and direct access customers this year, nearly twice as much as last year thanks to the CPUC’s rubber-stamping of PG&E’s calculus. For community choice customers, this amounts to a line item on their monthly bill ranging from $1.00 to $29.00. To stay competitive with the incumbent monopoly utility, community choice agencies must offset their electricity rates by roughly the amount of the PCIA.
This means that community choice programs are losing millions a year in revenue that could otherwise be used for demand reduction and the development of renewable electricity projects.