Regulators backed a three-year, 21 percent base rate revenue hike for Southern California Edison. The approval came after supporters spun the increase as a labor-economic stimulus package for the state\u2019s ailing economy. After delaying its vote over the last couple of months, the California Public Utilities Commission passed the hike 4-1 on March 12. \u201cIt\u2019s a tough and unpopular decision,\u201d noted commissioner John Bohn. Under the commission\u2019s action, a base revenue increase is set for 11.43 percent this year over last year, which will bring the company\u2019s base revenue up to $4.829 billion. Subsequent increases of 4.25 percent are slated for next year and another 4.3 percent for 2011, according to the Division of Ratepayer Advocates, at which time authorized base revenues will reach $5.254 billion a year. In approving the hike, the commission trimmed Edison\u2019s initial request for $5.205 billion of base revenue this year. Commission president Mike Peevey said that the hike would cost about $85 a year for the average ratepayer. The Utility Reform Network estimated it would total $100 a year. Only a portion of the total charges on a utility bill goes toward the base revenue requirement, which covers the cost of the utility\u2019s capital equipment and facilities and their staffing overhead. Through their monthly bills, utilities collect not only the money they need for that base revenue requirement, but numerous other charges they simply pass through for the purchase of power and fuel, public goods programs, local and state taxes, and other regulatory purposes. Commissioners approved the increase, they said, because of the planned up front investment in Edison infrastructure and associated jobs. \u201cIt\u2019s pay now or pay later,\u201d said Peevey. TURN criticized the commission and utility because the base rate revenue boost comes amid tough economic times. Also, it marks almost a 29 percent increase in the 2009 base revenue allowance for Edison since 2006, almost triple the corresponding 10 percent inflation rate over the same period. \u201cYou would think that Edison would tighten its belt just like the rest of us,\u201d said Mark Toney, TURN executive director. \u201cInstead they\u2019ve done just the opposite.\u201d Regulators had two proposed decisions in front of them. The decision that passed (proposed by Peevey) allowed for a 28.8 percent increase in base revenues over 2006, the time of its last general rate case review. The second proposal by an administrative law judge, which was rejected, would have allowed a 23.9 percent increase in revenues from the 2006 level. General rate cases for investor-owned utilities are sent through regulatory hearings every three years. Their heavily litigated details set the rates and revenues for utilities for the next three years. Peevey called the rate increase \u201cjust and reasonable.\u201d He added that if the rate increase did not go through hundreds of jobs would be lost. Others claimed 1,000 jobs would disappear if the rate increase was declined. Dozens of labor and faith-based witnesses from Southern California advised commissioners that the smaller rate increase would harm communities. Commissioner Dian Grueneich dissented, questioning Edison\u2019s statistics. Consumer groups said that the new rates would harm, rather than help, consumers and workers. In other commission news, regulators approved a plan to expand Pacific Gas & Electric\u2019s \u201csmart meter\u201d project at a cost of $466 million. This plan puts electronic devices on consumers\u2019 lines to monitor electricity and gas use. The total cost of PG&E\u2019s \u201csmart meter\u201d program is now expected to be $2.2 billion, according to the utility. According to commissioners, the utility already has installed about 200,000 meters in the Bakersfield area. With the economic feedback from those meters, about 10,000 customers reduced electricity use by 17 percent on \u201ccritical peak days.\u201d \u201cThe cost is significant but the decision balances technologies,\u201d said commissioner Tim Simon. Regulators approved $1.74 billion in 2006 to install smart meters for all of PG&E\u2019s customers, according to Jana Corey, PG&E director of energy information network. There continues to be a question about smart meters from one utility communicating with other utilities in California. However, Corey said the meters don\u2019t have to \u201ctalk\u201d to other utilities\u2019 meters. At the moment, PG&E is attempting to get its meters to \u201ctalk\u201d to an in-home device--one that the customer would have to purchase--in order to monitor energy consumption. The grid operator for most of the state--the California Independent System Operator--disagrees. \u201cWe need standards and communications protocols,\u201d said spokesperson Stephanie McCorkle. PG&E was the first to adapt smart meters. According to commissioner Bohn, the decision by PG&E to adapt technology that is proprietary for its meters is being vested on ratepayers. \u201cWe seem to take for granted that when a utility makes a mistake, it\u2019s the ratepayers\u2019 concern,\u201d Bohn said.