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CPUC Approves Billion-Dollar Budgets for Utility Low Income

Among its year-end actions last Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved more than a billion dollars annually for the next two years, for low-income utility bill discounts and energy efficiency programs by the state's four major private-sector energy utilities. Qualifying customers can receive 20% monthly bill discounts and free energy efficiency services and products. More than 3.5 million customers are expected to receive these services.

The CPUC action adopted budgets, policies and program parameters for two established programs -- Low Income Energy Efficiency (LIEE) and California Alternate Rate for Energy (CARE). Each is serviced by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Southern California Edison Co., Southern California Gas Co., and San Diego Gas and Electric Co., along with six other investor-owned utilities with much smaller operations in the state, which are budgeted to collectively spend another $11-$12 million on the LIEE and CARE programs.

For the four largest utilities, the collective CARE budgets for the next two years are $977 million in 2007 and $1.04 billion in 2008; for LIEE, the budget calls for $157 million next year, and $156 million in 2008.

"These programs allow the most vulnerable Californians to save money on their bills, while including them in the statewide effort to protect our environment and assure a more reliable, low cost energy infrastructure," said CPUC Commissioner Dian Gueneich, the lead commissioner on low-income programs.

The breakdown by utility caused CPUC President Michael Peevey to seek a staff analysis of why more than half the funds in the low-income discount program are budgeted for PG&E in the northern half of the state, while the southern half has more than half the state's population and conceivably more people in the low-income category. The breakdown is as follows:

For the four utilities, the LIEE and CARE programs are designed to provide energy efficiency to more than 150,000 low-income households and discounted energy bills to more than 3.9 million low income customers next year. The utilities' collective estimates are the electricity demand in 2007 can be decreased by more than 86 million kWh, and natural gas demand by more than 3.6 million therms.

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