California regulators fast track utility bill relief as natural gas prices soar

Californians stung by high gas and electric bills can expect to receive some relief after the Public Utilities Commission voted Thursday to fast track some $1.3 billion in credits from utilities to consumers.

The payments, part of a state effort to offset increasingly volatile energy costs, are typically distributed in April and October.

“December saw one of the highest natural gas price spikes in recent memory. This price volatility is another excellent reminder of the urgent need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels in our homes and energy system,” said Commissioner Darcie L. Houck. “We expect the utilities to process this relief as expeditiously as possible.”

The credits, called the California Climate Credit, are funded with revenue from the state’s cap and trade program, which sells carbon pollution permits to industrial greenhouse gas emitters, meant to offset higher energy costs.

Credit amounts, which are typically paid in two allotments, vary depending on a customer’s utility. Pacific Gas & Electric customers can expect a total bill credit of $91 and $104 for San Diego Gas & Electric. SoCal Edison customers will receive $71, and SoCal Gas $50.

Customers will automatically receive the credit, regardless of their energy consumption or the balance on their account.

Unusually high natural gas bills this winter have squeezed households across the state. Wholesale prices are up 63% since October, Bloomberg reported.

The commission’s Public Advocate’s Office at the commission filed an emergency motion for customer relief from “dramatically” high gas prices last month as cold weather pushes more Californians to turn up their thermostats.

Utilities have cited increases in commodity prices as one of the primary drivers of higher-than-expected bills. Infrastructure repairs and high demand for imported gas has also lowered supply. Some consumer advocates, meanwhile, are calling for an investigation into possible market manipulation.

The utilities commission is set for a broader discussion on natural gas prices next Tuesday.