Utility Surcharge Funds Green Research

FEB. 11, 2011


If you look at the bottom of your electricity bill you will see a cluster of surcharges with abbreviations that conceal what the charge is going for, unless you call your utility company and ask them.  One of these surcharges is called PIER – Public Interest Energy Research.   PIER has sucked $700 million from California electricity ratepayers since 1996, in what the Legislative Analyst’s Office reports (Jan. 18) has not been a “clear payoff” for ratepayers.

The Public Interest Energy Research surcharge was initiated under AB 1890 in 1996, the infamous bill that authorized electricity “deregulation” in California. This charge siphons $62.5 million annually from electric ratepayers and $24 million per year from natural gas customers for vaguely defined energy research. The surcharge on electricity sunsets in 2012, but the premium on natural gas continues indefinitely.

While the California Energy Commission, which administers the funds, claims there has been billions of dollars in energy savings, the LAO disagrees with how those so-called energy savings have been calculated. Have you seen any of those billions in reductions in your electricity bill due to energy research?

According to the LAO, questionable grants were awarded to study “deforestation, salmon habitat restoration, and the potential impact of climate change on bird distribution.” In other words, it was another jobs program.

One such study that can be found online surveyed California coastal managers (whoever they are) to determine how they were planning on dealing with climate change and rising sea levels. Titled “More Than Information: What California’s Coastal Managers Need to Plan for Climate Change” was conducted by Susan C. Moser and John Tribbia of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a federally funded climate change research center. In other words, California utility rate payers have been paying for a federal climate change research organization (jobs program) to fund an opinion survey about what California was planning on doing about a purported future rise in sea levels that is purely theoretical and conjectural. Why would California need to fund a federal agency in roundabout fashion to ask its so-called coastal managers what kind of information they wanted about climate change?

The key finding of this research was:

“Based on extensive interview and survey research in the state, researchers found that managers prefer certain types of information and information sources and would benefit from various learning opportunities (in addition to that information) to better use the available climate change information.  Coastal managers are highly concerned about climate change and willing to address it in their work, but they require financial and technical assistance from other agencies to do so.”

In other words, coastal managers would like to go to free conferences at posh resorts to learn more about climate change but require more money to do so. This is the kind of research you are paying for at the bottom of your electricity bill.

While the $24 million per year that would continue to be siphoned from your natural gas bills is chump change compared to the mega billions spent on electricity in California, it is nonetheless symbolic of the parasitism of government at all levels.  California’s Public Interest Energy Research program is mostly duplicative of federal energy research.  California’s state budget is not only dying from large future pension obligations but from thousands of small ant bites such as the Public Interest Energy Research program that should be ended.

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