Capitol Alert

Higher rates for PG&E? New bill would require state approval for increases on customers

California lawmakers are considering a plan that would require PG&E to get their approval before increasing customer rates.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, introduced Senate Bill 549 on Friday to make it more difficult for the company to pass along bankruptcy costs to customers.

“In effect, this requirement gives the Legislature a say in how the reorganization impacts PG&E customers — who otherwise would have no representation in any consideration of rate changes,” Hill said in an announcement unveiling the legislation.

His proposal would reduce the power of the California Public Utilities Commission, which is now in charge of setting rates for public utilities. The commission would still be able to set rates for other companies, but it would need special legislative approval for PG&E.

Two other bills Hill introduced on Friday would increase the commission’s authority.

If Hill’s bills are passed, the CPUC would be required to set standards for inspections electric transmission lines. If PG&E or other gas and electric companies are involved in a merger, acquisition, or change of control, the commission would need to make sure the utility service safety is improved.

PG&E declared bankruptcy last month amid concerns it was responsible tens of billions of dollars in damages from deadly California wildfires, setting off a flurry of activity in the Legislature to reign in the company’s power. Lawmakers so far have shown little interest in having the state take over for PG&E. They fear they would transfer the financial risk from the company to taxpayers.

“At some point in time, when the grid becomes more safe, I would suggest that there are other opportunities that so many people have opined on — like public utilities or breaking (PG&E) up,” said state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa. “But for now, I don’t see that happening.”

Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.