Banning’s Electric Utility typically spends nearly 60 percent of its revenues on low-income assistance, a far higher percentage than the 25 to 35 percent that other cities typically do, according to the utility’s public benefits Director Amber Rockwell.
As residents lose jobs and find it more challenging to take care of bills, the Banning Electric Utility does not anticipate a jump in low-income assistance, but the option is there for those in need.
“Our residential customers already benefit by paying less than the amount 74 percent of all Southern California residential customers pay for their electric energy,” says Tom Miller, the utility’s director. “We are doing our part every day,” though “I commit that the city will continue to work with our customers on a case by case basis: if customers fall on harder times, we will make payment arrangements, provided that they continue to make an effort to pay their bills and catch up in an agreed amount of time.”
The Banning Electric Utility, which is a not-for-profit enterprise, offers a low-income discount, funded by the state-mandated Electric Public Benefits Charge, that allows for an annual discount of up to $360 towards the electric portion of their city utility bill.
Eligibility requirements start at $31,860 a year for households of one or two, and increments creep higher with larger household sizes.
“We haven’t had a rate increase since May 2013,” Miller says, but points out that there was a rate restructuring implemented in the fall of 2018, which removed a tiered rate that billed residents who used higher volumes of electricity a higher amount if they reached certain thresholds.
The city now has a more fair structure that all residents pay a flat rate for kilowatt hours used.
The Banning Electric Utility also increased its monthly assistance amount for low-income and medically eligible customers, which has resulted in a 33 percent increase in the past years of the utility’s assistance, according to Miller.
The discounts replaced the Banning Electric Alternative Rate, since there are no longer “alternative” rate structures, Miller points out.
“We’re proud of these changes, as it demonstrates our willingness to work with our customers — a primary advantage of having a locally owned utility.
Residential rates in Banning are currently $18 a month access charge, and $.15232/kilowatt hour charge. There is a low-income discount of $30 month for eligible households, and $25 a month medical discount; and a combined low-income and medical discount of $50 for eligible households through the discount program.
Miller says that he does not anticipate an overall expansion of the discount program, since providing low rates is something “we are doing every day as standard practice,” though “We are keeping a watchful eye out for any state or federal funds available to help our customers with their energy bills,” though cautioned that most of those funds are earmarked to larger metropolitan areas, where “the perception is that the money goes further,” and that “the city’s lobbyists are working on that as we speak.”
Miller says that power supply and delivery represents 60 to 70 percent of the Banning Electric Utility’s annual budget.
“Our customers are already billed one month in arrears,” he explains. “Some haven’t paid for February, and most haven’t paid for March, yet we must pay for this power as it is used.”
For now, the electric utility is fiscally capable of handling the pandemic, “but we are keeping a watchful eye on our cash flow and our customers’ energy bills,” Miller says.
City Manager Doug Schulze adds “Banning residents who are experiencing financial difficulties are on our hearts and minds,” and encourages residents “who have lost employment and are struggling financially to contact city staff for assistance” at (951) 922-3105, or the Banning Electric Utility at (951) 922-3260.
Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org , and messages may be left at (951) 849-4586 x114.