SDG&E is robbing and endangering San Diego residents

San Diego residents pay the highest electricity rates in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with households paying an average of 36.5 cents per kilowatt-hour last December. Los Angeles residents pay 34% less (24 cents per kWh) and Riverside County residents pay 23.8 cents per kWh.

San Diego Gas and Electric is owned by Sempra, a publicly traded company with a revenue of $12.184 billion in 2021. Even with this outrageous amount of profit, SDG&E still decided to exact a 7.8% rate increase that was finalized in January.

Customers are dealing with sticker shock over the last several years, as SDG&E’s rate increases, which started in 2013, are expected to outpace inflation by almost 70% by 2030. The most common excuse from SDG&E for price hikes is that they do not set their rates alone, but in conjunction with the California Public Utilities Commission.

The CPUC is a statewide body that regulates privately owned electric, natural gas, telecommunications, water, railroad, rail transit and passenger transportation companies. The CPUC board is made up of five commissioners that are appointed by the governor. Public records show that Sempra donated more than $29,000 to Gavin Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign in 2018.

Liberation News spoke with San Diego resident Jasmin Rivas. Rivas stated, “[This] rate increase has taken a toll on myself and many of my friends. The fact that they’re doing this in a pandemic, during inflation at a time where millions of people are struggling to make ends meet truly highlights how insensitive they are. They’re showing individuals like myself that they care more about money than the people that keep their business going.”

SDG&E neglect

In 2007, when three deadly wildfires raged through San Diego County, SDG&E made a request to the CPUC to pass $379 million in costs related to damage from the wildfires onto residents. This request was denied, as SDG&E was found culpable for not reasonably managing and operating its facilities.

Investigations by CAL FIRE and the CPUC determined two of the 2007 fires were caused by sparks from downed wires and another was caused when a lashing wire owned by Cox Communications hit an SDG&E power line. SDG&E engaged in a legal battle with the CPUC, ending in 2019 with the Supreme Court of the United States also ruling against the company.

Since then, SDG&E spent about $3 billion to prevent wildfires in its service territory. Rather than take accountability for damages the energy company causes, SDG&E used the improvements as a loophole to unload more costs onto residents.

Energy companies similar to SDG&E, such as Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison, jumped onto the same SCOTUS case to side with SDG&E. PG&E entered the case just a few weeks before the deadly wine country wildfires of 2017 broke out, which killed 44 people and destroyed 250,000 acres.

CAL FIRE blamed the San Francisco based energy company for causing 17 of the fires that broke out in wine country, but PG&E executives faced no criminal charges. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2019 due to a flood of lawsuits in the aftermath of the 2017 wildfires. The CPUC also fined PG&E $125 million after one of its transmission lines caused the Kincade wildfire in Sonoma County in 2019, and found the company’s poorly maintained equipment also responsible for several other wildfires in Northern California that same year.

Not exclusive to California

The destruction caused by decentralized, private power grids cannot be understated. We can look to Texas for another example. ERCOT, the 501(c)4 organization that regulates the Texas power grid, left millions to suffer a blackout during record freezing temperatures during the February 2021 power crisis, the worst energy infrastructure failure in the state’s history. More than 700 people died as a result of the Texas power failure caused by ERCOT.

During the crisis, some energy firms made billions in profits due to some firms being able to pass extremely high wholesale prices up to $9,000/MWh, the system cap set by ERCOT. This created $16 billion in unnecessary charges which consumers had to pay for despite the disaster being directly attributed to ERCOT not preparing Texas’ power grid infrastructure for the blizzard.

SDG&E’s power continues to expand

SDG&E holds a near monopoly on San Diego County’s power grid. But the first few months of 2022, many cities within San Diego County, including residences in Imperial Beach, La Mesa, Encinitas, and Chula Vista, are switching from SDG&E to San Diego Community Energy for their electricity.

San Diego Community Power is a “community choice” energy program, which provides customers with electricity that comes from at least 50 percent renewable energy sources, like wind and solar. It also offers electric power at slightly better rates, and will eventually roll out to much of the county. While in these cases San Diego Community Power is in charge of purchasing power, SDG&E will still be in charge of other areas, like transmission, power distribution and customer billing.

Organizations such as Public Power San Diego are fighting back against SDG&E exploitation. Ultimately, the abolition of for-profit power through a centralized, publicly controlled power grid that prioritizes preventative infrastructural improvements and preemptive measures to address the effects of climate change would be the best service option for working people everywhere. Utilities are a basic human right and they should not be sold for profit.

Photo from a protest in Texas demanding ERCOT execs be held jailed and the company put under public control. Liberation photo

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