I love that the California Public Utilities Commission is coming to Bakersfield in August, after the second-hottest July on record, to hold a hearing about how PG&E should spread the pain of its latest rate increase.

Summer is the perfect time to ask Bakersfieldians what we think about energy costs.

Yes, folks, the PUC will have representatives here Monday for two public comment sessions regarding who should pay how much of the $1.5 billion (2017-19) raise PG&E got earlier this year. 

The size of the rate increase “pie” is set, the PUC is just trying to work out how big a slice it's going to cram down our throats.

Which brings me back to "baseline allotments," something I've written about for years now.

The concept of baseline energy was concocted in the 1980s when the Legislature directed the PUC to create tiered rates as a means to encourage energy conservation.

The idea is consumers won't use as much electricity in order to stay in lower-cost tiers.

The lowest tier is considered baseline energy.

The amount of baseline is supposed to be between 50 percent and 60 percent of the average amount of energy used by consumers in each of PG&E’s nine territories.

Anyhow, in Kern County we are allotted about 520 kilowatt-hours, or kWh, per month in summer, which runs from May through October.

We’re charged about 20 cents per kWh within the baseline amount.

The next tier, which is up to 400 percent above baseline, is charged at nearly 30 cents per kWh.

The third tier is 40 cents per kWh for anything greater than 400 percent over baseline.

In Kern County during summer, most people blow past baseline like it’s standing still.

I think the baseline allotment should be increased for areas with such harsh summers.

There are a couple of ways to do this.

1. Reduce summer months to June through September.

May and October are usually pretty temperate. Including them in the calculation drives down the “average use” amount on which baseline is calculated.

2. Exclude solar homes from the average-use calculation.

I wrote about this last October and it still galls me.

Homes equipped with solar panels use little to no energy.

Including them in the calculation of “average use” is like including rocks.

The more solar homes in an area, the less energy is used, driving down the baseline allotment and increasing costs for those of us who can’t afford solar.

It’s unfair and needs to change. (See sidebar for info about a bill in the state Senate that would do just that.)

These are two small but important issues for residential customers to bring to the PUC’s attention in our own defense.

There are other, bigger, issues that need to be tackled, including rattling the Kern County Board of Supervisors to look at “community choice aggregation.”

That’s where the county can choose to buy its electricity from a generator other than PG&E but still use the utility’s distribution lines.

Other counties have done it and pay up to 32 percent less on generation costs.

Since generation costs make up more than 40 percent of our bills, that could be substantial.

But, as I said, that’s another issue for another time.

For now, all we can hope for is a little relief on baseline allotments.

A dark corner of my heart wishes the City of Bakersfield would turn off the A/C during the PUC’s meeting Monday to show commissioners what it’s really like to try and live within our baseline allotments.

But then no one would stick around for the meeting.

* This column was corrected in regards to tier 2 charges.

Contact Californian columnist Lois Henry at 661-395-7373 or lhenry@bakersfield.com. Her work appears on Sundays and Wednesdays; the views expressed are her own.

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