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SB-1135 Electric and gas service: rates: California Alternate Rates for Energy program.(2017-2018)

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Date Published: 05/01/2018 09:00 PM
SB1135:v98#DOCUMENT

Amended  IN  Senate  May 01, 2018

CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE— 2017–2018 REGULAR SESSION

Senate Bill No. 1135


Introduced by Senator Bradford

February 13, 2018


An act to amend Section 739.1 of the Public Utilities Code, relating to energy.


LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST


SB 1135, as amended, Bradford. Electric and gas service: rates: California Alternate Rates for Energy program.
Under existing law, the Public Utilities Commission has regulatory authority over public utilities, including electrical corporations and gas corporations. Existing law authorizes the commission to fix the rates and charges for every public utility and requires that those rates and charges be just and reasonable. Existing law requires the Public Utilities Commission to establish a program of assistance to low-income electric and gas customers, referred to as the California Alternate Rates for Energy or CARE program. Eligibility for the CARE program is for those electric and gas customers with annual household incomes that are no greater than 200% of the federal poverty guideline levels.
This bill would require the commission to allow electric and gas customers whose incomes are greater than 200% of the federal poverty guideline levels to participate in the CARE program if the commission finds that the cost of living in the geographical area where those consumers reside is disproportionately high relative to other geographic regions served by an electrical or gas corporation and finds that expanding eligibility for electric and gas customers in that high-cost geographic region is needed in order to maintain health, safety, or quality of life. make electric and gas customers with annual household incomes that are no greater than 250% of the federal poverty guideline levels eligible for the CARE program.
Vote: MAJORITY   Appropriation: NO   Fiscal Committee: YES   Local Program: NO  

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:


SECTION 1.

 Section 739.1 of the Public Utilities Code is amended to read:

739.1.
 (a) The commission shall continue a program of assistance to low-income electric and gas customers with annual household incomes that are no greater than 200 250 percent of the federal poverty guideline levels, the cost of which shall not be borne solely by any single class of customer. For one-person households, program eligibility shall be based on two-person household guideline levels. The program shall be referred to as the California Alternate Rates for Energy or CARE program. The commission shall ensure that the level of discount for low-income electric and gas customers correctly reflects the level of need. The commission shall allow electric and gas customers whose incomes are greater than 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline levels to participate in the CARE program if the commission finds that the cost of living in the geographical area where those consumers reside is disproportionately high relative to other geographic regions served by an electrical or gas corporation and finds that expanding eligibility for electric and gas customers in that high-cost geographic region is needed in order to maintain health, safety, or quality of life.
(b) The commission shall establish rates for CARE program participants, subject to both of the following:
(1) That the commission ensure that low-income ratepayers are not jeopardized or overburdened by monthly energy expenditures, pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 382.
(2) That the level of the discount for low-income electricity and gas ratepayers correctly reflects the level of need as determined by the needs assessment conducted pursuant to subdivision (d) of Section 382.
(c) In establishing CARE discounts for an electrical corporation with 100,000 or more customer accounts in California, the commission shall ensure all of the following:
(1) The average effective CARE discount shall not be less than 30 percent or more than 35 percent of the revenues that would have been produced for the same billed usage by non-CARE customers. The average effective discount determined by the commission shall reflect any charges not paid by CARE customers, including payments for the California Solar Initiative, payments for the self-generation incentive program made pursuant to Section 379.6, payment of the separate rate component to fund the CARE program made pursuant to subdivision (a) of Section 381, payments made to the Department of Water Resources pursuant to Division 27 (commencing with Section 80000) of the Water Code, and any discount in a fixed charge. The average effective CARE discount shall be calculated as a weighted average of the CARE discounts provided to individual customers.
(2) If an electrical corporation provides an average effective CARE discount in excess of the maximum percentage specified in paragraph (1), the electrical corporation shall not reduce, on an annual basis, the average effective CARE discount by more than a reasonable percentage decrease below the discount in effect on January 1, 2013, or that the electrical corporation had been authorized to place in effect by that date.
(3) The entire discount shall be provided in the form of a reduction in the overall bill for the eligible CARE customer.
(d) The commission shall work with electrical and gas corporations to establish penetration goals. The commission shall authorize recovery of all administrative costs associated with the implementation of the CARE program that the commission determines to be reasonable, through a balancing account mechanism. Administrative costs shall include, but are not limited to, outreach, marketing, regulatory compliance, certification and verification, billing, measurement and evaluation, and capital improvements and upgrades to communications and processing equipment.
(e) The commission shall examine methods to improve CARE enrollment and participation. This examination shall include, but need not be limited to, comparing information from CARE and the Universal Lifeline Telephone Service (ULTS) to determine the most effective means of utilizing that information to increase CARE enrollment, automatic enrollment of ULTS customers who are eligible for the CARE program, customer privacy issues, and alternative mechanisms for outreach to potential enrollees. The commission shall ensure that a customer consents prior to enrollment. The commission shall consult with interested parties, including ULTS providers, to develop the best methods of informing ULTS customers about other available low-income programs, as well as the best mechanism for telephone providers to recover reasonable costs incurred pursuant to this section.
(f) (1) The commission shall improve the CARE application process by cooperating with other entities and representatives of California government, including the California Health and Human Services Agency and the Secretary of California Health and Human Services, to ensure that all gas and electric customers eligible for public assistance programs in California that reside within the service territory of an electrical corporation or gas corporation, are enrolled in the CARE program. The commission may determine that gas and electric customers are categorically eligible for CARE assistance if they are enrolled in other public assistance programs with substantially the same income eligibility requirements as the CARE program. To the extent practicable, the commission shall develop a CARE application process using the existing ULTS application process as a model. The commission shall work with electrical and gas corporations and the Low-Income Oversight Board established in Section 382.1 to meet the low-income objectives in this section.
(2) The commission shall ensure that an electrical corporation or gas corporation with a commission-approved program to provide discounts based upon economic need in addition to the CARE program, including a Family Electric Rate Assistance program, utilize a single application form, to enable an applicant to alternatively apply for any assistance program for which the applicant may be eligible. It is the intent of the Legislature to allow applicants under one program, that may not be eligible under that program, but that may be eligible under an alternative assistance program based upon economic need, to complete a single application for any commission-approved assistance program offered by the public utility.
(g) It is the intent of the Legislature that the commission ensure CARE program participants receive affordable electric and gas service that does not impose an unfair economic burden on those participants.
(h) The commission’s program of assistance to low-income electric and gas customers shall, as soon as practicable, include nonprofit group living facilities specified by the commission, if the commission finds that the residents in these facilities substantially meet the commission’s low-income eligibility requirements and there is a feasible process for certifying that the assistance shall be used for the direct benefit, such as improved quality of care or improved food service, of the low-income residents in the facilities. The commission shall authorize utilities to offer discounts to eligible facilities licensed or permitted by appropriate state or local agencies, and to facilities, including women’s shelters, hospices, and homeless shelters, that may not have a license or permit but provide other proof satisfactory to the utility that they are eligible to participate in the program.
(i) (1) In addition to existing assessments of eligibility, an electrical corporation may require proof of income eligibility for those CARE program participants whose electricity usage, in any monthly or other billing period, exceeds 400 percent of baseline usage. The authority of an electrical corporation to require proof of income eligibility is not limited by the means by which the CARE program participant enrolled in the program, including if the participant was automatically enrolled in the CARE program because of participation in a governmental assistance program. If a CARE program participant’s electricity usage exceeds 400 percent of baseline usage, the electrical corporation may require the CARE program participant to participate in the Energy Savings Assistance Program (ESAP), which includes a residential energy assessment, in order to provide the CARE program participant with information and assistance in reducing his or her energy usage. Continued participation in the CARE program may be conditioned upon the CARE program participant agreeing to participate in ESAP within 45 days of notice being given by the electrical corporation pursuant to this paragraph. The electrical corporation may require the CARE program participant to notify the utility of whether the residence is rented, and if so, a means by which to contact the landlord, and the electrical corporation may share any evaluation and recommendation relative to the residential structure that is made as part of an energy assessment, with the landlord of the CARE program participant. Requirements imposed pursuant to this paragraph shall be consistent with procedures adopted by the commission.
(2) If a CARE program participant’s electricity usage exceeds 600 percent of baseline usage, the electrical corporation shall require the CARE program participant to participate in ESAP, which includes a residential energy assessment, in order to provide the CARE program participant with information and assistance in reducing his or her energy usage. Continued participation in the CARE program shall be conditioned upon the CARE program participant agreeing to participate in ESAP within 45 days of a notice made by the electrical corporation pursuant to this paragraph. The electrical corporation may require the CARE program participant to notify the utility of whether the residence is rented, and if so, a means by which to contact the landlord, and the electrical corporation may share any evaluation and recommendation relative to the residential structure that is made as part of an energy assessment, with the landlord of the CARE program participant. Following the completion of the energy assessment, if the CARE program participant’s electricity usage continues to exceed 600 percent of baseline usage, the electrical corporation may remove the CARE program participant from the program if the removal is consistent with procedures adopted by the commission. Nothing in this paragraph shall prevent a CARE program participant with electricity usage exceeding 600 percent of baseline usage from participating in an appeals process with the electrical corporation to determine whether the participant’s usage levels are legitimate.
(3) A CARE program participant in a rental residence shall not be removed from the program in situations where the landlord is nonresponsive when contacted by the electrical corporation or does not provide for ESAP participation.