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California utility regulators meet today to finalize details of March’s unanimously approved rate hike.

Scheduled to take place yesterday, the vote was delayed by California Public Utilities Commission President Loretta Lynch, who told reporters the proposed rate plans were being reworked.

“I regret the delay, but revisions are still being made this morning, and we will not be ready to decide this until a meeting tomorrow,” Lynch said.

The CPUC is studying two plans to increase electricity rates through a tiered retail pricing system. The plans are designed to financially penalize heavy energy consumption by the 24 million customers of Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison — the state’s two largest utilities. The plans would raise rates 20 percent to 50 percent for commercial and industrial customers and 41 percent to 48 percent for all electricity used by residential customers in excess of a percentage of their existing base usage.

But while the rate hikes are intended to punish energy hogs, a new program the CPUC announced on May 3 works to encourage conservation. Under the “California 20/20 Rebate Program,” utility companies will provide a rebate of 20 percent to customers who reduce their usage by at least 20 percent compared to last summer. The program will be in place from June through September.

For example, a customer’s average daily electricity usage during the June 2001 billing period would be compared with the customer’s average daily usage in June 2000. Ratepayers would receive a credit for each month they reduced their electricity usage by 20 percent. A reduction in the utilities’ payments to the Department of Water Resources in subsequent months will pay for the program.

Customers of San Diego Gas & Electric need only reduce their consumption by 15 percent “because of their efforts at reducing electric usage last summer,” said the agency.

But in order to take advantage of the program, utilities must comply with filing requirements of Gov. Gray Davis’ executive order creating the rebate system. Rate schedules, rules and conditions must be in effect before June 1. Without a dramatic and immediate change in the state’s method of providing electricity or a vast reduction of electricity consumption, rolling blackouts will plague the state during the hot summer months. With temperatures already in the mid 90-degree range in some parts of the state, air conditioners are already in use.

Davis wrote in Executive Order D-30-01 that “consumers will reduce their energy consumption if provided financial incentives and additional tools to promote energy efficiency in their homes.”

Advertisements by the Department of Consumer Affairs encourage citizens to “power down,” but some Californians wonder what further conservation will look like. In hot areas such as the Central Valley, air conditioners are raised to 78-80 degrees. Commercial venues such as grocery stores, warehouses and other retail establishments have dimmed the lights. Businesses have semi-permanently shut down elevators, turned off computer equipment at night and no longer light hallways. And city skylines have faded.

Today’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Pacific.

Related stories:

Energy rate increases OK’d for California

California energy bill passed

Flickering lights in the Golden State

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