The PCIA Story
The California Community Choice Association is engaged in ongoing efforts to reduce the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment (PCIA) for all ratepayers. California’s investor-owned utilities (IOUs) use the PCIA to recover above-market or “stranded” costs associated with their power portfolios. The impact of the PCIA on ratepayers is a major concern because it increases by hundreds of millions of dollars each year. In 2019, IOU and CCA ratepayers in the Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) service territory were subjected to a PCIA forecast that was over 500% greater than it was only six years ago. We believe more can be done to reduce the PCIA.
Why Reduce the PCIA?
With millions of California residents and businesses struggling to meet their monthly expenses, a situation that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that we look for ways to scale back ratepayers costs, while simultaneously staying on track to achieve ambitious climate action goals.
But how can we both reduce costs for energy consumers and maintain, even accelerate, our path to a carbon-free energy future?
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recognized in its 2018 Phase 1 PCIA decision that utilities need incentives to manage their PCIA portfolios more aggressively and initiated a Working Group 3 (WG3) phase of the proceeding to focus on portfolio optimization and cost reduction.
The working group, co-chaired by CalCCA, Southern California Edison, and Commercial Energy, was charged with figuring out how to optimize IOU energy portfolios to minimize stranded costs.
Working Group 3 focused on ways to optimize IOU portfolios and reduce above-market costs.
After nearly a year of dedicated work, the WG3 co-chairs filed a consensus proposal with the CPUC in February. The proposal would require utilities to optimize their energy portfolios by more actively managing contracts and increase transparency into the PCIA process in order to save costs for all customers. The CPUC has yet to act on the proposal so ratepayers can realize the savings.
The WG3 proposal puts forth a number of ways IOUs can more actively manage their portfolios to reduce above-market costs.
Under the WG3 proposal, load-serving entities (LSEs) would have access to products in IOUs’ PCIA portfolios through allocations, “market offers,” and assignments of product attributes.
The proposal also provides a framework to facilitate reductions in total PCIA portfolio costs through buy-outs/buy-downs or other types of transactions.
Further, the framework would provide for increased transparency of IOUs’ optimization process.
How is the PCIA Calculated? Warning: It’s Complicated!
The PCIA is set annually in the IOUs’ Energy Resource Recovery Account (ERRA) proceedings. It includes above market or “stranded” costs related to power supply commitments that the IOUs made many years ago. These include Utility-Owned Generation (e.g. nuclear, natural gas, hydroelectric plants) and long-term renewable energy contracts with third parties.
The PCIA is derived from the utility’s Indifference Amount, which is updated annually in each IOU’s ERRA proceeding. The Indifference Amount is the difference in the target year between the cost of the IOU’s supply portfolio and the market value of the IOU’s supply portfolio.
PCIA savings can result from either the cost of the portfolio going down, or the value going up.
Each generation resource and departing customer is assigned a “vintage.” A distinct portfolio of generation resources is identified for each vintage year based on when a commitment to procure each resource was made. Customers are assigned to vintage years according to the date they depart bundled IOU service. Customers continuing to receive bundled service from the IOU are included in the latest vintage (e.g. vintage 2021 in the current application). Each vintage is assigned a separate Indifference Amount and customers are responsible for the cumulative PCIA rates for their vintage.
What is the PCIA Cap and Trigger Mechanism?
In 2018, the CPUC established a “cap” on annual PCIA increases of 0.5 cents/kWh to minimize the change in the PCIA from one year to the next, noting that the “cap protects against volatility in the PCIA.” The Commission directed the IOUs to track “undercollections” as a result of the cap in a special account. If the undercollection balance in the account reaches and the IOU forecasts that it will reach 10%, it must file a “trigger” application requesting a rate increase. If the Commission grants the rate increase, the IOU must bring the undercollection down to 7% and maintain the balance below that level until January 1 of the following year, when the PCIA rate adopted in that utility’s ERRA forecast proceeding will take effect.
In July, San Diego Gas & Electric filed the first-ever PCIA trigger application. Under SDG&E’s proposal, customers would experience a dramatic rate spike, with an increase to some residential customers of roughly 93 times the .5 cents/kWh annual rate increase cap. This extraordinary increase would be followed by an almost equally precipitous drop. Hence, the cap/trigger mechanism could generate the volatility it was created to avoid. PG&E and Southern California Edison also filed trigger applications this year, but neither proposed recouping the undercollection in 2020.
Our PCIA Work Continues
CalCCA will continue to advocate for PCIA solutions that reduce costs and increase stability for ratepayers.
Check back soon for more on the PCIA!