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Gas and Electric Services: Your Public Utility Bills

Liz's advice on finance, credit, frugal living practices, & anything monetary is from the 'school of hard knocks,' research, & experience.

Utility Bills: A Hard Look

Have you looked at your utility bill lately? I mean, really looked at it? Sure, the first thing we all see is the amount due column, which inspires plenty of grumbling. But read the itemization. Look at all those extra taxes and fees. They add much padding to the bottom line—and to the bottom line of the utility corporation as well.

Did you know that a good many of these so-called ‘taxes’ often do not, in fact, end up being transferred to the government coffers? Parent companies end up writing off their subsidiaries, who in turn don't pay the taxes they appear to owe. Additional fees deliberately misnamed either as taxes or fees, have been lobbied for by the utility itself: they go right into the utility's bank account, inflating their own net profit. The end result of this money shufflle is that you, the consumer, have been charged more than once for the services provided.

When you pay your monthly utility bill, be assured that a large portion is earmarked for these special-interest expenditures intended to benefit the utility, and not to improve your service.

This is not easy to track down, but it can be done so obliquely with a bit of research. Here in California, P.G. and E., according to the Senate Office of Public Records (via the Center For Responsive Politics), is at the very top of the list for lobbying expenditures. Their spending for 2010? An obscene $45,460,000!

Update: The same site lists P.G and E's spending on lobbying for 2017 as $3,730,000. A significant drop of about 92% from 2010, which saw the highest in a cycle of marked ups and downs starting in 2006. Nonetheless, it is still a lot of money.

A Little Bit of History

Northern California’s utility giant, P.G. and E. began back in 1852 as the San Francisco Gas Company. The early supplies of gas for cooking and lighting were by means of gasification from coal (rather than the natural gas we now use). As this technology was further studied and implemented, more start-up companies came into existence. By 1905, there were 5 different companies that then merged and became Pacific Gas and Electric. By 1952, the number of buyouts and mergers had added up to 520 different gas and electric suppliers consolidated under the P.G. and E. mantle.

Gradually, P.G. and E. became a monopoly provider of power for Northern California, much as Southern California Edison did for the lower half of the state.

Obscene Rate Increases

Despite so-called "regulating agencies," rates have skyrocketed over the years, far out of proportion to other price increases.

From my parent's average P.G. and E. bills between 1946 and 1950 of $5.70 per month to our current average bills of $250 is a whopping 4,286% increase.

By contrast, a loaf of bread or quart of milk has gone up "only" 1,400% in the same period.

This not a small increase, but contrasted against the rise in utilities, you see a 206% higher rate of increase for the utilities.

It is unconscionable, and illustrates well why many ratepayers in Northern California refer to the company as "Pacific Greed and Extortion."


I am terrible at math: to insure my figures are accurate, I used an online percent increase/decrease calculator. which you may find it useful or helpful for your own research.

Other Options Are Few

The bigger a company becomes, the less responsive it is to its consumers. In the case of these utility giants, termed as ‘legalized monopolies,’ the consumer has nowhere else to turn for gas and electric service.

The much-touted solar conversions are outrageously expensive, and therefore unavailable to most consumers. The break-even point, (averaging 20 years as promoted by the industry sales force), is likely to be beyond the remaining life expectancy for many.

Wind turbine power is another alternative energy source available, in principle, to get “off the grid” and obtain electrical power for free. Again the equipment is prohibitively expensive for the majority of people.

Additionally, the consumer must be located in an area with sufficient wind on a consistent basis. If that criteria is met, there are hurdles to be jumped in the form of city and county zoning regulations.

Beyond that, wind turbines, seen so gracefully turning on wind farms in the hills near freeways, are not so nice up close and personal. They are noisy.

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It would be like having an idling helicopter right outside your door. Unless you live on a property with massive acreage where the turbine can be located an acre or two away from your house, it is not a practical idea for the masses.

The Supposed Guardians of the Public Interest

The Mission Statement of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) :

” The California Public Utilities Commission serves the public interest by protecting consumers and ensuring the provision of safe, reliable utility service and infrastructure at reasonable rates, with a commitment to environmental enhancement and a healthy California economy. We regulate utility services, stimulate innovation, and promote competitive markets, where possible, in the communications, energy, transportation, and water industries.”

In this author's opinion, these statements, in a very generous assessment, at least stretch the truth. In point of fact, these agencies seem to be created to better serve the profits of the utilities themselves by merely rubber-stamping their requests for rate increases.

I am not alone in making such a charge of the fox guarding the hen house.

Outright Fraud

Worse, many utility corporations have been caught in outright fraud, which, if committed on such a scale by you or I, would result in a conviction for felonious grand larceny.

One such incident involves the current touting of so-called “green energy” and the forced implementation of fluorescent light bulbs. The small ones for lamps and ceiling lights in household fixtures are referred to as “compact fluorescent lights,” or CFLs.

P.G. and E. had a program in place to make these (very expensive) new bulbs available to California consumers at a discount. What happened?

According to the consumer watchdog organization, T.U.R.N. (The Utility Reform Network), here’s exactly what happened:

“A program funded by customers permits PG&E, SDG&E and SoCal Edison to sell the bulbs at a discount. The reduced-cost CFLs are supposed to conserve energy and reduce our state's need for expensive new power plants. But utility greed and mismanagement have resulted in the bulbs being sold out-of-state, providing little direct benefit to the consumers who pay for the discount.”

Excuse me? "A program funded by consumers..." For this sham of 'going green,' we are forced to pay twice? Since these CFLs are now mandated by law, the old style incandescent bulbs are no longer being manufactured. I smell collusion and kickbacks.

The Worst Case Example

Somehow, those slippery CEOs at P.G. and E. are managing to skate around the concept of public responsibility, and continually seek rate increases to its customers to pay for things that should instead be paid for by its stockholders, in the form of reduced dividends.

This is particularly true in the matter of negligent deferred maintenance, such as that which caused the fatal fire in San Bruno, CA, back in September of 2010. Interestingly, that is the same year of the huge lobbying expenses discussed above.

The penalty assigned by jurors in the subsequent investigation and criminal trial is but a slap on the wrist; pocket change for such a large corporation!

A Resident's Home Video Captured Moments After the Blast

The San Bruno Disaster Penalty

If It’s Not Illegal, It Ought To Be

An article from Utility Consumers Action Network (UCAN) breaks down the utility bill line items, but I immediately noticed that various 'line items' have been singled out for specific charges on your bill. These are the 'double-dipping' charges. In other words, they are supposed to be part of the normal cost of doing business, and are already included under the basic charges for gas and electricity.

Now, it seems to me, with all the promotion of reduced consumption, whether mandated or voluntary, there is no need to assess charges for increased consumption. Something is very wrong, here.

Adding to the insult of the double, triple and quadruple-dipping into the wallet of the utility consumer is the practice of money wasted on advertising.

Why does a monopoly need to advertise? We see advertisements for P.G. and E. in many areas: billboards, TV, print media and online. None of this comes cheaply. Advertising is, in fact, very expensive. We are captive consumers. This money would be better spent on lowering our rates than on pointless advertising and propaganda campaigns.

It may or may not be technically illegal, but it is most certainly unethical.

If You Want to Gripe About These Practices...

There is little doubt that P.G. and E. is not alone in its practice of overcharging consumers by means of these excessive fees and bogus taxes. The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners will help you locate the regulating agency in your state.

There is also the option of contacting your local elected officials at the state level, and giving them an earful.

Finally, your United States representative in the House or the Senate is deserving of hearing about these egregious charges, as the feds are also involved to some extent.

Where To Find More Information or Volunteer to Help

© 2011 Liz Elias


Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on October 25, 2011:

Hello, Xenonlit--

Thanks so much for stopping by and adding your input. I'm glad you found the article useful.

You are so correct..but people are getting so fed up they are starting to feel their power; hence the nation-wide protests now happening.

Anti-protest observers attempt to claim that the protesters cannot cite a single, unified thing against which they are protesting. In a way, that is true, but on the other hand, the nay-sayers are entirely missing the point: we are all fed up with EVERYTHING!! We are protesting the status-quo. Is that single-purpose enough for them?

Thanks again for your comment--much appreciated.

Xenonlit on October 25, 2011:

"The bigger a company becomes, the less responsive it is to its consumers. In the case of these utility giants, termed as ‘legalized monopolies,’ the consumer has nowhere else to turn for gas and electric service."

It is amazing how helpless we feel to do anything about it. Thanks for an enlightening hub.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on March 13, 2011:

Hi, Jeff61b!

Thank you very much. It is exactly because I have gotten so sick of this lopsided society and twisted priorities that I decided to become "the voice" and write this series!

Hopefully, everyone who agrees will post links and help spread the word to mobilize a grass-roots movement for change.

jeff61b on March 12, 2011:

This is a very informative hub. It confirms once again, what I already know about big corporations. They can get away with this because they spend millions on lobbying and campaign contributions. The more money you spend on lobbying and PACs, the less you pay in taxes.

More and more, our government is being run for the corporations and by the corporations.

OpinionDuck on March 01, 2011:


Thanks and the scam goes on and on.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on February 28, 2011:

Hellow, speedbird--

Thanks for stopping by and your votes! Sadly, the CPUC is not following the spirit of the mission at all. They MAY be following the letter, but it is not a 'letter' written to the advantage of the consumer.

speedbird from Nairobi, Kenya on February 28, 2011:

I love the Mission Statement of the California Public Utilities Commission. I hope the are following it in letter and in spirit. Voted UP and rated USEFUL

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on February 27, 2011:

Hi, healingrose!

Thanks much. Isn't it interesting how they 'forget to mention' those pesky little details? What's the old saying? "The devil is in the details."

healingrose from Northern California on February 27, 2011:

This is interesting of how PG&E say your saving money for these light bulbs being green good for the planet and yet they are very toxic to you and the enviroment.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on February 27, 2011:

Opinion Duck: Bingo and Amen!

Just like the so-called gasoline shortage in the 70' was a withholding of supply, not an actual shortage. My husband and a friend snuck around taking photos to prove it, gave them to the newspaper, which conveniently shelved them and did nothing to report on the story. Free press?? Doesn't sound like it to me--sounds more like special-interest-controlled press!

And you are also correct about the cost of building new facilities after the need is greater. Another such example is cities allowing builders to create new housing tracts without first upgrading the needed infrastructure or highways feeding into town. The result: gas-wasting traffic jams of monumental proportions, and brand-new streets torn up to perform work that should have been done first!

OpinionDuck on February 27, 2011:


I remember back in the 80's George Burns would be doing commercials for the Gas Company about conserving your use of it.

Conservation is at best a stop gap measure, but as the population increases conservation fails.

Just think of how many millions of gallons of water come from out of state for drinking. Yet, this is not conservation but because we can't trust tap water.

BTW, If we had built new facilities like Dams, Power Plants, Wind Farms, Solar Farms, Aqeuducts and other resources for the increasing size of the population in the 80s it would have cost a fraction of what it would cost to do it today.

In addition, beside the increased cost of doing it today, it wouldn't be availabe for at least another ten years.

It benefits the utilities to have a limited supply so that they can charge more when the demand increases. They do less and get more revenue, sweet deal, for them.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on February 26, 2011:

Hi, OpinionDuck! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. You are so correct! "Conservation" is a huge propaganda scheme foisted on us 'little folks' so the big guys can continue to be wasteful.

In the last drought, a neighbor of mine got penalized for over use of water. They rationed everyone based on their average consumption, and increased your rate tier if you went over.

Trouble was, she was already someone who conserved well, and had nowhere else to go to cut use. That is why I don't play that game. I don't waste water, but neither do I take such measures as "navy showers."

OpinionDuck on February 26, 2011:

I agree with you.

I also think that the biggest corporation is the government. Talk about not listening to you, they wrote the book.

Because these monopolies don't keep up with the ever increasing population make us pay. When in fact they were the ones that failed.

Even when we conserve water for example, they raise the price because the lost revenue.

We voted into office the people that could control these and all the big corporations but I guess we don't vote well.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on February 26, 2011:

Hi, someonewhoknows--Thanks for stopping by.

That could be an option for anyone who has extra funds available for the initial output. Like anything else, the initial investment is what kills the budget. It would take a lot of batteries to power an entire house (and in our case also workshop, and some 220 tools and appliances.)

It is always good to put all the ideas out there, though, as what doesn't work for one may work for someone else.

SALVAONEGIANNAOLCOM from south and west of canada,north of ohio on February 26, 2011:

It may be cheaper in the long run to have a bank of rechargable batteries that you could charge up during off peak hours and use an inverter to power your home during the daylight or peak hours.Of,course you would have to check out the cost benefit of doing so.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on February 26, 2011:

Hi, katiem2! Thank you so much. You are so correct. Stand up an complain, shout from the rooftops and gather others to make even more noise. As they say, 'The squeaky wheel gets the grease.' We need to squeak louder!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on February 26, 2011:

Thanks, Tom Cornett, for stopping by and adding your two cents! ;-) Every person who agrees is one more person who realizes the scope of the problem, and is strengthened toward a grass-roots movement to change the status-quo!

Tom Cornett from Ohio on February 26, 2011:

A great hub on the executive criminals of the U.S. They blatantly charge the public ridiculous and mind boggling amounts for their own perks and pocket packages for political influence.

Every utility is infested with these fat worms.

Thanks for writing this...wonderful job!

Katie McMurray from Ohio on February 26, 2011:

How refreshing to have someone give an open and honest report on corporate greed and public utilities. All this stand up and protest business is proof that we the people need to stand up, open our mouths and demand accountability. Thanks, :) Katie

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on February 25, 2011:

@Karen--Thanks for stopping by!

@Micky Dee--I could not agree more. While the courts are tied up dealing with frivolous suits over spilled coffee and deciding things that are none of their business, such as same-sex marriage, the truly important things that are tearing this country apart go ignored.

Professional mobsters, indeed; great turn of phrase!

Micky Dee on February 25, 2011:

Another awesome hub! Thank you DzyMsLizzy. I cannot trust anything to do with our country. To be fair, I don't trust the world either. The 1% own most everything in America and the world. I certainly have NO faith in electing another lawyer to any poublic office. Lawyers will not police their own workplace. They haven't run a courtroom but into the ground. Courts are rife with fraud but thats only been for a few hundred years. There will be NO lawyer from Harvard or Yale that will save America. But the next president will be a lawyer. He will be from Harvard, I'm sure. Harvard, home to the Skull & Bones club. Yep. Good luck there. Great write DzyMsLizzy. I just have no faith in these professional mobsters. God bless!

Karen on February 24, 2011:

So true!!!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on February 22, 2011:

Thanks, Fossillady! ;-)

Kathi Mirto from Fennville on February 22, 2011:

Great eye opening article, you said it, fox guarding the hen house,

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on February 21, 2011:

Thanks, Susan!

Interesting to note that the US is not alone in this dilemma. I knew it was at least nationwide...but Canada suffers as well. My sympathies!

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on February 21, 2011:

Well said!!!! This article is great. Our rates here in Canada have skyrocketed. In 2002 I was paying roughly 85.00 a month for hydro. Now my bill comes in at 190.00. This past year they have started billing us per use of day. If we use electricity more during the hours of 7am and 9pm it costs more.

Sam Little from Wheelwright KY on February 21, 2011:

You nailed it right on the head. Electric bills in my area went up 17% because of a hard winter last year that made the power company have to move trees away from lines, which is something that should have been done regardless, but without a rate increase.

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