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For some Southern California Edison users, rates will be more costly than advertised

Kiera Feldman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

As electricity bills rise with the temperature, some Southern California Edison customers are getting an extra jolt starting this month — and it's one they didn't see coming.

In April, Edison sent homeowners letters saying they were getting a new rate plan but their cost for electricity wouldn't change.

One Santa Monica household's notice, reviewed by The Times, showed the customer's old rate was $1,030 per year. The new rate? Also $1,030 per year, the letter said.

But then a second letter from Edison arrived in the mail at the end of July. The new rate, the customer was told, would actually be $1,723 per year — a 67% increase that works out to nearly $60 a month. The first mailing had showed "an inaccurate rate analysis," the new letter explained.

The Santa Monica homeowner, who didn't want to be identified out of privacy concerns, wasn't alone. The utility sent similar letters to 3,251 customers.

Although the notice seemed to blame bad math, Edison spokesperson Ron Gales had a different explanation. The "print agency erroneously double-printed" the old rates into the column that should have shown the new ones, Gales said.

 

For ratepayers who don't parse every mailing from their utility, the increase will come as an unpleasant surprise in bills this month, when a new "time-of-use" rate goes into effect. Under time-of-use rates, customers pay more for power during high-demand periods of the day.

Edison's handling of the rate snafu drew criticism from consumer advocates, who think the state's utilities need to do a better job communicating with customers how their energy bills rise if they don't change their behavior.

"It's a printing thing not a math thing? It's still their responsibility. That's a nonsense statement," said Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network (TURN). "People have a right to be upset when they're told one thing and it turns out to be something else."

Gales said that Edison contacted all customers who'd switched to more expensive plans after the mailing — only 114 had made changes — and "added additional proofing steps with the print agency."

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