San Francisco Chronicle
Lawmakers are not done grappling with PG&E rates. The company returned to the Legislature this month seeking authorization to take on as much as $20 billion in tax-exempt debt to help compensate fire victims and exit bankruptcy. […]
Still, opponents of PG&E’s bond plan quickly latched onto the company’s plan to increase its shareholder rate of return. A group representing farming and food-processing utility customers sent out a message last week saying that “ratepayers, not shareholders, will end up footing the bill for the mountains of debt PG&E’s shareholders want to add to their balance sheet.”
Debating between what counts as shareholder money and what counts as ratepayer money is “really kind of an academic exercise,” said Steven Weissman, a former administrative law judge for the state utilities commission.
That’s because of how utility rates are typically set: Companies ask for permission to collect a certain amount of money based on what they anticipate their expenses will be in the future, he said. Utilities have to justify the amount of money they’re asking for, but once regulators sign off, the dollars become difficult to track, said Weissman, who is now a lecturer at UC Berkeley’s public policy school.
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