Implementation delayed for homes, agricultural customers

NORTH BAY – Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is rolling out a new rate plan called “Peak Day Pricing” in response to a statewide initiative led by the California Public Utilities Commission aimed at reducing energy use during periods of extremely high demand.

Large manufacturing customers are likely to see big jumps in peak pricing as early as February. But in response to requests by PG&E and agriculture representatives, the pricing program implementation has been delayed for some users.

During those peak use days -- from nine to 15 per year -- participating customers who shift their usage to off-peak hours in the mornings and evenings when energy demand is lowest will pay lower rates. Customers who use energy during peak periods on those days when the grid approaches capacity will pay a higher rate.

“Peak day pricing gives customers an opportunity to pay a lower rate when they reduce their energy use during peak periods,” said Christine Cordner, spokeswoman for PG&E.

However, due to concern from PG&E about the implementation of the support systems it will need to have in place and issues raised by ag users, the CPUC is allowing PG&E to delay rolling out the program for small and medium agricultural users and residential customers.

Brian Cherry, the PG&E vice president of regulatory relations, wrote to Paul Clanon, the executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission, saying, “PG&E makes this request because the customer service online tools required before these initiatives are implemented have not been completed in time for a February 2011 launch.”

Mr. Clanon granted PG&E an extension to Nov. 1, 2011, for residential customers.

Meanwhile, the CPUC also received a letter from the California Farm Bureau Federation requesting that the implementation date for the mandatory rates for small and medium agricultural customers be extended to Feb. 1, 2012. Mr. Clanon also agreed to that date.

One of the concerns raised by the farm bureau is that November marks the end of harvest and an implementation date of Nov. 1 may create barriers to agricultural customers’ analysis of impacts from the change.

The peak day pricing could have a major impact on businesses, particularly manufacturing companies, said Robert Boller, vice president of sustainability for Jackson Family Wines. Mr. Boller’s concern is that the pricing could go up astronomically.

Because the power customers will find out the day before the peak day, Mr. Boller said it is true some can cancel production or do split-shifts so machines are not in use during the peak hours, but the possible cost of the increase could be significant.

Ultimately, said Ms. Cordner, eligible commercial and agriculture customers will be automatically switched to the peak pricing unless they opt out or choose an alternative program.