Residents of Southern California often have high utility bills, especially during the hot summer months when central air conditioning provides relief from the sweltering heat. However, there’s a difference between high and outrageous, and that’s something that people who live in Mission Viejo know from experience.
Recently, some of the city’s residents have petitioned the state Public Utilities Commission to find out why the bills for residents serviced by San Diego Gas & Electric are significantly higher than those for residents serviced by the area’s other electricity provider, Southern California Edison.
The Cost of Electricity in Mission Viejo
We all have times when our utility bills are high, but a comparison between the charges from San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison shows a significant difference.
The regular cost per kilowatt hour is $0.27 for SDG&E, and $0.18 for SCE. During times of high usage, the rate increases to $0.55 and $0.35, respectively. The increased high usage charge is part of a new effort by the PUC to encourage energy conservation.
One resident of Mission Viejo, Josh Smisko, told the Orange County Register that his electricity bill doubled from June to July of 2018, increasing to a whopping $580 for the month. He noted that his family was away every weekend of the month and had unplugged all appliances, which made the high price of electricity very hard to accept.
According to SDG&E, there are some legitimate reasons that their prices are higher than those of other utility company. They say that their usage of renewable energy resources, which can be more expensive than traditional energy resources, is far higher than the national average. Most of their power lines are underground, which makes sense when it comes to mitigating the risks of wildfires and climate change but are expensive to maintain.
The prices charged by SDG&E were approved by the state utilities commission, but that hasn’t stopped residents from protesting.
A Coastal Zone?
One of the biggest bones of contention between Mission Viejo and SDG&E is the designation of the city as a coastal zone. San Diego has several distinct climate zones, and the temperatures in the coastal zone can be as much as 15 or 20 degrees cooler than in the inland areas. A coastal designation triggers the high usage charge at a lower level than what would be applied to inland residents.
However, the corner of Mission Viejo that’s closest to the Pacific is still seven miles away. The city’s mayor, Ed Sachs, scoffs at the idea that his city is on the coast. He points out that the temperature on the coast is typically at least 10 degrees cooler than it is in the city.
Sachs also pointed out that Mission Viejo residents don’t benefit from inflated real estate prices when they sell their homes. They can’t claim to be on the coast, so why, he wonders, should they be expected to pay inflated electricity rates?
How to Lower Costs
Making an appeal to the PUC seems to be the best way for Mission Viejo to get some relief from SDG&E. Some communities have turned to something called Community Choice Aggregation, which allows municipalities to buy electricity for their residents to use.
The downside of aggregation is that communities who do it must pay a fee to use a utility’s transmission lines. On top of that, SDG&E could charge any resident who cancels their service an exit fee.
While the PUC might help, Sachs and his constituents aren’t holding their breath. Sachs says that he is hoping for, but not expecting relief. In the end, the best bet might be convincing SDG&E to remove the coastal designation. That would at least give Mission Viejo’s residents more time each month before they must pay the high usage cost per kilowatt hour.