PG&E news roundup: Discounts for energy hogs, new power plants in poor communities, and the CEO’s incredible expanding pension

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By Rebecca Bowe

A couple of news items related to California’s most powerful utility company caught our attention this week.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is planning to raise electricity rates for the customers who use less -- in order to slash costs for big-time energy hogs, Mission Local reported this morning.

In an application filed with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Oct. 14, PG&E explained that typical residential customers paying $74.14 a month would see their average monthly bill rise to $76.63, a 3.4 percent hike. Meanwhile, consumers using 1,500 kilowatt-hours per month could see their average monthly bill drop from $434.98 to $419.66, a discount of 3.5 percent. If approved, the change could take place Jan. 1, 2010 along with a bundle of other rate hikes.

It isn’t the only PG&E request to raise eyebrows recently.

A trio of environmental organizations filed formal letters of protest with the CPUC this week against PG&E’s application for two new gas-fired power plants.

The facilities, which would generate up to 1,300 megawatts of power, would be constructed in Oakley and Antioch, and PG&E expects them to be in operation by 2013 and 2014, respectively. According to the application, the utility would purchase the power generated by one facility, which would be owned and operated by Mirant. It would enter into a deal to purchase and operate the second facility once it was up and running.

Pacific Environment, one of three San Francisco nonprofits to issue a letter of protest, submitted to the CPUC that the utility’s proposal to build new fossil fuel powered plants conflicts with the state’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Communities for a Better Environment and Californians for Renewable Energy have also raised concerns about the proposals.

Pacific Environment’s letter also charged that the company failed to consider the environmental justice implications of building two new power plants in an area already overburdened by pollution.

Ten existing power plants in Contra Costa County, where the facilities would be sited, already account for 56 percent of the total power generated in Bay Area counties, according to data from the California Energy Commission. (That’s not counting the refineries and chemical manufacturing plants in the area, Pacific Environment points out.)

“These facilities are proposed to be sited in low-income and minority communities,” according to the letter. “A significant percentage of the residents in those cities live below the federal poverty line. … These communities are disproportionately impacted by illnesses known to be related to exposure to industrial pollution. For instance, in Contra Costa County, the hospitalization rate due to asthma for African American children is almost five times that of Caucasian children.”

On a different front, PG&E earned a mention in a Wall Street Journal story that ran this week pointing out a rise in executive salaries.

WSJ spotlighted the company’s CEO, Peter Darbee, as a beneficiary of the controversial practice of awarding corporate executives with additional years of service in order to boost their retirement earnings. Darbee was awarded an additional five years of service in 2008, bumping up his pension to $5.2 million from $3.8 million -- a 38 percent rise. Although he seemingly aged half a decade all at once, the chief executive probably feels like a million bucks.

The Guardian placed a call to PG&E yesterday, but did not receive a response.