By Vicky Boyd
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has introduced new peak time-of-use periods and rate structures for agriculture, effective March 2021, that company officials say will simplify their pricing.
But San Joaquin Farm Bureau leaders say they’re withholding opinions on the new plans until they’ve had time to study them.
“Myself, I’d have to look at the prices and different rates and see what they want to charge as far as dollars per kilowatt before making a decision on what to do,” said Dave Simpson, a Lodi area winegrape grower and SJFB board member. “Time of use is fun when you’re getting a substantial savings. But if it’s only going to be a few dollars per hour, why would I want to turn my pump off for three hours? I’d spend the extra money and run continuously and do what I want.”
SJFB First Vice President Ken Vogel, who grows cherries and walnuts near Linden, said he, too, needed time to look into the new programs before making judgment.
“Very rarely do costs go down, and PG&E has had problems with fires and different things over the years,” Vogel said. “I don’t think they’d be lowering prices oveall. I’m skeptical of it bringing any savings for farmers.”
He has one pump each for three orchards, and one ranch needs four sets totaling 72 hours to complete a single irrigation. Even PG&E’s new AG-F flex program, which provides up to 69 hours of off-peak use on selected days, may not be enough for Vogel’s one ranch.
“I’m hoping that these blocks of time would work for us – I’d like to see more, but I’m skeptical,” he said. “If they give us those blocks, I’m wondering what the limitations are in the fine print. I’m wondering if during the hot parts of the summer if there will be cut-off times when the air conditioners are all working.”
Karen Norene-Mills, California Farm Bureau Federation director of legal services, recommended growers study plans carefully to determine which one best fits their individual situations.
“The bill impacts that PG&E has provided to us show that many customers will benefit from the transition to the new schedules at varying levels, some with only minor benefit,” she said. “Please keep in mind that this benefit is only with respect to the transition to the new schedules and excludes the implications from other cost pressures, such as the wildfire-related costs, or other policy-driven costs, such as electric vehicles and increases in renewable generation requirements.”
PG&E officials outlined the changes for agricultural and business customers and answered questions during a recent webinar. The utility plans to hold additional online sessions in January and February. For more information, visit PG&E’s website at https://bit.ly/2GZCaE5 and click on “agricultural rate plans.” The website also has explanations of new business time-of-use programs.
The new TOU programs stem from hearings conducted in 2017 and a Public Utilities Commission ruling in 2018, said Christine Forster, manager of ag/food processing, PG&E business energy solutions.
Those who want to sign up for the TOU plans immediately can do so, but they must have a meter that can be read remotely, such as a Smart Meter or MV90 meter, and 12 months of billing history.
If you don’t sign up early, PG&E will move you to a default program, based on use history, in March 2021. Afterward, you have one opportunity to change during the subsequent 12-month period should you not like the program the utility chose.
Among the changes for agricultural users are:
Moving the peak time-of-use period to 5-8 p.m. year-round, including holidays and weekends, said Michelle Cheda, PG&E senior products manager, pricing products. Previously, TOU did not apply to weekends or holidays.
Eliminating partial peak and super off-peak periods.
Changing summer pricing to June 1 through Sept. 30.
Consolidating ag rates into three size categories. Small ag rates are for those who use less than 35 kilowatts. Within that sector is AG-A1 for people who have a lower load factor and have less than 1,300 annual operating hours. AG-A2 is for those with a higher load factor and more than 1,300 operating hours.
AG-B is for medium users who draw more than 35 kW and have less than 1,500 operating hours, and AG-C is for high users who draw more than 35 kW and more than 1,500 operating hours.
Delaying implementation for “highly impacted” users until March 2022. PG&E defines them as customers with potential bill increases greater than 7% and $100 annually from transitioning to the revised TOU periods.
Eliminating connected load charges. “Customers will only be billed on what they use,” Cheda said. In the past, if you had a 10 hp pump, you were billed for a load charge based on the pump size year-round, whether you used it or not. In the winter, for example, you’d pay $13.90 per month based on $1.39 per hp even though you weren’t running the pump. Under the new plan, you’d be charged only for maximum demand. Although the charge would be $5.79 per kW monthly, you’d pay nothing in the winter because you didn’t run the pump.
Maintaining the same maximum demand charge in the winter as in the summer.
Offering an optional AG-F Flex program with longer off-peak pumping periods under three pre-defined flex-rate options. It is similar to the previous AG-R plan.
Choose from Wednesday and Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, or Friday and Monday. The first two allow 69 hours of continuous off-peak pricing. For example, the Wednesday-Thursday option would allow off-peak pumping from 8:01 p.m. Tuesday to 4:59 p.m. Friday.
The last option offers 45 hours two times per week. This would allow off-peak pumping from 8:01 p.m. Sunday to 4:59 p.m. Tuesday and from 8:01 p.m. Thursday to 4:59 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s available to all, but it’s conditional on local circuit constraints,” Cheda said. “If those day selections put constrictions on the grid, then you might be offered your second choice.”