Pacific Gas & Electric's “pre-Gutenberg” manual billing has been named as one of the top five biggest money wasters for California utilities.
Environmental campaign body the Sierra Club last week released the list to demonstrate its claims that California utilities are pushing billions of dollars in costs on to customer bills through dirty energy projects and outdated business practices.
Sierra Club said PG&E charge customers five to 10 times more than Southern California Edison (SCE) or San Diego Gas & Electric. California's largest utility charges its solar customers a US$30 per month fee compared with US$3 for SCE.
“PG&E still uses manual billing for solar customers, decades after nearly everything else has been computerised. Customers, of course, foot the bill for this antiquated approach – time to switch from abacus to automation,” said a Sierra Club statement.
“These efforts not only cost Californians money, they block the expansion of local clean energy like rooftop solar. It’s time for big utilities to ditch the dirty energy projects support clean energy solutions like rooftop solar.”
SCE's proposed US$3.15 billion coal plant in Kern County topped the list, followed by SDG&E’s and PG&E's natural gas power plants and SCE’s San Onofre Nuclear Plant, which has been closed since safety concerns came to light in January last year.
William Craven, public relations manager at SolarCity, said: “Northern and southern California are not on separate continents but the amount that PG&E appears to be spending on manual billing for Net Energy Metering customers is ten times what it is for those more southerly utilities. It begs the question as to why this is really necessary.
“It's yet another cost to be considered when you find lots of utility-handwringing about what they allege to be the costs of solar to ratepayers.
“This list illustrates that there are a lot of costs going around and the utilities would like to frame the net energy metering battle as a referendum on solar but really it ought to be a referendum on the utility model in 2013.”
A PG&E spokesman disputed the data used by the Sierra Club: “About 80% of our customers are billed automatically. But even for customers who aren't billed automatically there's no surcharge or standing charge, or additional charge.
“They're using an old report where we were asked to estimate what it costs to bill customers who weren't part of the programme for smart meters.”