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PG&E warns of high electricity bills due to heat wave, offers payment assistance

Many PG&E customers are worried that that they won’t be able to afford their monthly energy bills after the September heatwave.|

Did you turn down your thermostat to stay cool earlier this month? If so, brace yourself for higher electric bills.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. warned its customers in a recent email announcement of an increase they’ll see on their electricity bill after a heat wave brought record-breaking temperatures to parts of California for a few days in early September.

According to data from PG&E, residential energy use during the Sept. 6 heat wave was up 31% from the Sept. 4 period last year. PG&E currently has 222,850 electricity customers in Sonoma County. That number includes residential and commercial customers, with residential customers making up 87% of the company’s service agreements.

One consumer feeling the pinch is Neil Mogannam, owner of Fourth Street Deli in downtown Santa Rosa. He said, during the heat wave, his bill was higher than ever. The highest his bill had previously ever gotten, he said, was $2,800. This time, he paid around $3,800.

For his home, he normally pays between $200-$240 a month, but this time, he said, his bill was about $420.

“I paid it, but now I’m more conscious of the payment because I can’t afford to be paying that much,” Mogannam said. “But what do you expect a business to do?”

Along with the warning, PG&E offered different payment plans customers can apply for to help ease the cost burden.

“The extreme prolonged heat wave caused customers to crank up their air conditioners, and any increased energy use will lead to higher energy bills,” PG&E spokesperson Deanna Contreras said in a statement.

“We are here to help our customers manage their energy use and costs.”

Sonoma Clean Power customer operations manager Danielle McCants said while customers won’t have a rate change because of the higher usage, they will see their bills get higher as customers use more energy.

Contreras said there are multiple tools, rebates, discounts and offer plans for customers to help pay their bills.

There’s the one-time assistance plan that provides qualifying customers with an energy credit for up to $300 through the Relief for Energy Assistance through Community Help Program.

There’s also the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, which provides up to $1,000 for home energy bills. Qualification for this program is based on federal income guidelines, according to PG&E’s website.

Qualifying customers can also apply for longer-term assistance with their bills. The California Alternate Rates for Energy program saves 20% or more on monthly gas and electric bills through enrollment.

“We know that no one wants to be surprised by higher-than-expected energy bills,” Contreras said.

“While customers can’t control the weather, which has an impact on energy bills, there also are factors customers do control, like the amount of energy you use; when you choose to use energy; your rate plan; and applying for financial assistance programs ... if you’re eligible.”

The Family Electric Rate Assistance Program is for households with three or more people. According to Jun 2022 data from PG&E, 5,743 Sonoma County customers are eligible for this program but only 1,593 are enrolled.

McCants said Sonoma Clean Power customers can also enroll in the GridSavvy Rewards program and get paid $2 per kilowatt when conserving energy during periods of high electricity use, such as during the recent heat wave.

Santa Rosa resident Steve Share retired about a year ago and is now living on a fixed income. Share said he and his husband haven’t been struggling with bills as of late, but they’re worried about what could happen in the coming winter months due to the significant increase in natural gas prices.

“We’re very careful about how much energy we use,” Share said. “I think we can manage right now, but I think there’s concern that we don’t want to spend our savings. That’s not what our savings are meant for.”

Share said because they’re both retired, he and his husband spend much more time at home and use as much energy as when they were staying at home during the pandemic.

The only difference is their costs are much higher than before.

“We can weather that kind of payment, but it’s going to impact other things based on our income,” Share said.

Sara Edwards is the business reporter for The Press Democrat. You can reach her at 707-521-5487 or sara.edwards@pressdemocrat.com. Follow her on Twitter @sedwards380.

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