San Diego Gas & Electric employees explain time of use pricing at a community event in April. Courtesy SDG&E

San Diego Gas & Electric‘s service territory ranges from the Mexican border north to Orange County. Throughout this vast area, residential customers are now officially in charge of when to use energy and how much future monthly bills from the company will be.

I’m referring to the recent rollout of new energy-management programs created by the California Public Utilities Commission to meet aggressive clean-energy goals set out by new state laws. In San Diego, that means SDG&E’s new Time of Use billing system, or simply TOU.

As a longtime San Diego resident, I’ve seen many changes in the cost of residential energy. The new state-imposed plan is simple: pay for what you use, choose when you use it. It’s so simple a proverbial caveman could understand it. It is, as mentioned, the ability to choose, making individuals collectively able to steer the community towards intelligent energy use.

TOU encourages all residents to shift their energy use to times of day when clean energy is more readily available and therefore more affordable, while conserving energy during the peak hours of 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The plan came from Senate Bill 100, which former Governor Jerry Brown signed into law in 2018. Under SB 100, 60% of state energy is to come from renewable sources by 2030, with the goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045. To help residents do their part, the state education campaign Energy Upgrade California was launched, using social media, TV and radio, and local community partners to educate Californians on energy efficiency.

SDG&E is making TOU available to all of its three million customers. The goal is to convert 750,000 households by the end of 2019, and another 750,000 households by the middle of 2020. Customers receive information in their monthly bill.

With such a big change, it’s easy for misinformation to spread. Did this idea come out of the blue? No, most businesses around the state have been on a similar program for years. Is this eliminating existing discount programs? No, existing discount programs such as Medical Baseline and Energy Savings Assistance will continue. Is this a rate increase? Not if customers consider when they use energy.

On the ground, community organizations are helping residents through this change. San Diegans can look to 211 San Diego as an information hub for questions about TOU. Since the TOU efforts began, it has handled nearly 18,000 calls for information about energy use.

TOU alone doesn’t necessarily save energy; it also doesn’t necessarily lower monthly energy bills. But it has the potential to do both. Residents who time their energy use responsibly—the daylight hours when solar is plentiful, and the evening hours when wind energy is strongest—can help California transition to renewable power. While every San Diego resident who shifts to off-peak hours might not see extensive savings, individual savings multiplied by a million or two is significant.

Raoul Lowery Contreras

For some residents, saving an extra ten or twenty dollars each month might not mean much. It might be more important to them to keep the air-conditioning going full blast. But for most of us, every dollar counts. Avoiding a higher energy bill can be the deciding factor in affording groceries or making rent. Especially if one is on a fixed income like I am.

My family has been a customer of SDG&E since 1943—or 1881, if you count my great-grandfather using SDG&E’s predecessors. Naturally, I’ve seen energy bills rise over the years. But I’ve also seen the population boom and summer temperatures rise year after year. Considering these factors, it’s not surprising that energy use—and bills—have increased. Like food or water, however, energy is a necessity, not a luxury. From cooking to lighting to refrigeration, our way of life depends on it.

Californians  in general and San Diegans in particular are eco-friendly. Many of us already work to conserve energy by turning off lights or unplugging devices that aren’t needed. That’s why TOU is the next step. We’re already energy efficient, now we have the opportunity to be energy conscious by switching to use during off-peak hours.

Adapting to TOU is a matter of scheduling: set aside a time before 4 p.m. or after 9 p.m. to do laundry or use the dishwasher. Or wait until Saturday or Sunday morning, when rates are lowest. Using a slow cooker during off-peak hours, for example, is so simple even a single guy like me can do it.

TOU is not just about individuals, or billing, it’s about joining together to make our future better.

Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant and author of the new book White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPS) & Mexicans. His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.

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