Moody’s: Energy edict will hammer SoCal municipal utilities

energy-costs-rising1-300x296Assembly Bill 32, the landmark 2006 law requiring California to begin shifting to cleaner-but-costlier forms of renewable energy, hasn’t hit consumers as hard as some economists feared for an ironic reason: Dirtier “brown energy” got cheaper. The U.S. fracking/shale revolution has sharply reduced the cost of natural gas and thus limited the cost impact of the renewable requirements.

But the honeymoon could be over for millions of Southern California residents served by municipal utilities. Moody’s Investors Service warns they will be hard-hit by the state’s latest edict on increased use of renewable energy to supply electricity:

On Oct.. 7, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring all California utilities to generate 50 percent of the electricity they sell to retail customers from renewable energy by 2030. The legislation will be credit negative for municipal utilities if ratepayers balk at higher prices that come with the transition to renewable energy from coal-fired generation.


Municipal electric utilities in Southern California would be particularly affected given their reliance on coal-fired generation. Coal-fired generation has historically supplied cities like Los Angeles and Anaheim with more than 40 percent of their electricity. In contrast, Northern California cities such as San Francisco and Sacramento derive all of their electricity from sources other than coal such as solar, hydroelectricity and natural gas.


The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and other Southern California municipal utilities have thus far managed the shift to other sources from coal without major ratepayer protest, allowing them to increase rates and maintain a sound financial performance. But Los Angeles ratepayers are facing a likely 3.4 percent annual water and power rate increase over the next five years to help support the further transition to cleaner energy.


For utilities, the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015 increases the percentage of electricity coming from renewable energy to 50 percent by 2030 up from the current 33 percent by 2020. We expect the utilities will meet the 33 percent requirement. However, ratepayer affordability and technical challenges will become increasingly difficult as utilities reach towards the more significant 50 percent renewable standard.

Infrastructure costs also likely to buffet ratepayers

Moody’s says another factor could also yield future rate shocks:

[Municipal] utilities will face another major challenge in whether the transmission grid can adequately handle the intermittent renewable resources that will begin to dominate California’s power supply mix. LADWP benefits from owning and operating its transmission system and has variable resources such as a pumped storage facility and gas-fired units to balance the system. The city of Anaheim recently added the Canyon natural gas fired unit and Southern California Public Power Authority financed the Magnolia unit in Burbank to help compensate for shortfalls in solar or wind energy. In the long term, the need to successfully integrate more renewables into the grid will likely require similar additional capital investment.

But while customers of the region’s two giant investor-owned utilities — Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — won’t be as hard hit by the latest state edict, they will also pay unique bills in coming years not borne by customers of municipal utilities. Unless a California Public Utilities Commission decision is overturned, customers of the two utilities will pick up 70 percent of the $4.7 billion cost of shuttering the broken San Onofre nuclear power plant. SCE owns 80 percent of the plant, SDG&E 20 percent.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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