Mixed Message at South Bay Hearings on PG&E Rate Hikes

Pacific Gas and Electric customers are getting a chance to weigh in on proposed rate hikes for gas and electric service.  Two California Public Utilities Commission hearings held in San Jose Wednesday drew a mixed reaction.
A parade of speakers supported the rate hikes, including business groups, non-profits and labor.  They praised the utility for its philanthropy and community involvement – and cited the need to upgrade aging infrastructure.   
Ben Field with the South Bay Labor Council voiced his support because the utility offers well paid union jobs.
“I think, as everyone knows, we are facing a severe problem of income inequality and PG&E is an exception to that rule,” he said.
But others denounced the rate hikes.  They said the community has lost faith in the utility and it can’t justify its proposed increases.
Some, like San Jose resident Brenda Gregory,  66, said they simply couldn’t afford to pay more.
“In my lifetime I’ve never come to a meeting before,” Gregory said at one of the hearings.   “But there’s a limit to how many requests for rate increases that I can endure from PG&E.”
Some opponents of the rate hikes were disturbed by what they described as a “dog and pony show” of PG&E supporters funded by the utility.
If approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, rates for gas and electric would go up about $12 a month for an average household. 
Mindy Spatt, with The Utility Reform Network says PG&E has gotten rate increases in the past, but hasn’t been able to account for where the money went.
“What PG&E really wants here is a blank check,” says Spatt.  “Once again they claim that these rate increases are necessary for gas safety, but they don’t actually say in the application how they’re going to spend this gas safety money.”
This was the last public hearing in the Bay Area.  But the CPUC is still accepting written comment from the public.
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