PG&E, the largest utility company in California, has announced that customers have likely seen and will continue to see significant increases in their bills this winter, SFGATE reported, to the tune of about a 32% spike. That reportedly translates to an average of $79 per month from November through March.

PG&E is blaming these higher electricity and gas bills on this winter’s below-average temperatures and greater heating demand across the West Coast, as well as higher global natural gas prices, in its statement regarding the sticker shock. (Of course, last summer, the company also reported a downturn in profits and higher expenses related to burying power lines and paying wildfire victims’ families, but that wasn’t in the press release.)

PG&E said that its customers have “used more natural gas than the five-year historic average this winter, with November usage 20% higher, December 10% higher, and January to date [as of January 27] about 3% higher.”

And that’s not all — a PG&E spokesperson told SFGate that even after fall 2023, the average customer's monthly bill could still continue to rise, with an expected rate increase of 16.3%, or about $35.40. PG&E needs the California Public Utilities Commission approval to increase what it's allowed to charge its gas and electric customers from 2023 to 2026, and the company just requested these higher rate adjustments, which could start in fall of 2023.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, in the past two decades, CPUC has approved about half of PG&E's requests. In February of 2022, the CPUC authorized a 9% jump in rates — which was unrelated to PG&E's new requests for 2023 and beyond

PG&E's attempts to increase prices are still facing criticism by many of its customers and consumer advocacy groups. Some customers are unhappy with the timing of the increase, especially after facing economic difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic and recent storms.

"Hundreds of people are calling to say they can't afford to pay their bills, they're afraid of being shut off," The Utility Reform Network (TURN) executive director Mark Toney told ABC7 about the potential price increases. "They're cutting back on their prescriptions, cutting back on food. People should not be faced with the choice of heat or eat."

Customers could get some relief soon, SFGATE reported, as the state's Climate Credit program distributes credits that lower Californians’ energy bills once a year in April. (The credits come from large companies buying carbon pollution permits, and that money offsets natural gas costs in residential energy.) However, the CPUC voted this week that utilities could send out those credits "as soon as possible."

Image via Unsplash/Jorge Gardner.