Watt’s up with the therms?

On or about Jan. 15, a phenomenon occurred all across Northern California.

On that day thousands of jaws dropped.

Consumers opened their bills from Pacific Gas and Electric Company and couldn’t believe what they saw. Their bills had, in some cases, doubled. (Eyes widened, jaws went slack.) They searched through the numbers to see if their payment from last month hadn’t been recorded. Nope. It was simply a huge increase in rate. (Brows furrowed.) That’s right, the therms used hadn’t changed, it was simply that the rate PG&E was allowed to charge on natural gas had changed. Now, customers of PG&E would have to scrape up as much as a hundred more dollars just to pay the outrageous gas bill. (Now jaws are reset.) They can’t do this to us!

Well, they can and they did. PG&E simply passed the bill onto us and we pass the dollar bills back to them. A guy on the PG&E help line claimed that the utility was not making a nickel of profit from this situation. I decided to investigate and look for alternatives.

If you’re looking for an explanation of how we got into this energy crunch, I suggest you read our cover story (“The Adventures of Wally the Watt,” by Steven T. Jones and Elizabeth McCarthy, page 16).

It’s time we knew more about watts and therms.