PG&E bills could drop

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By LENORE RUTHERFORD and The Associated Press

As temperatures rise this summer, PG&E bills are expected to drop slightly for residential customers in the Sierra foothills.

State power regulators have voted to increase baseline allotments the amount of electricity California households receive at the lowest electric rate.

This weeks decision by the Public Utilities Commission will have varying effects around PG&Es Northern and Central California territory, the utility said.

In Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, customers below 3,000 feet will receive 16 percent increases in their baseline levels, while customers at higher elevations will receive 14 percent increases. The changes will take effect May 1.

The change lowers each months bill by $3.27 for an average PG&E customer using 500 kilowatt-hours per month, said PG&E spokeswoman Christy Dennis.

Those customers who never surpassed the previous baseline wont see any change, though it could lower bills for those who exceed it, she said. Under last years record rate increases, electricity costs progressively more as a customer uses more.

PG&E will have to collect the $90 million it will lose through the change for residential customers, likely by raising other rates.

Baselines for customers of Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric Co. remain unchanged.

The baseline rate structure was designed by the California Legislature in the early 1980s to provide customers a minimum necessary quantity of electricity at the lowest possible cost, offering an incentive to conserve.

Energy use below the baseline amount is billed at a lower rate than energy used over the baseline limit.

Climate and household size are factors in a regions baseline. A family living in the desert typically has a higher baseline than a family living on the breezy coast to account for the cost of air conditioning.

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