Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison hope to increase their customer bases by offering farmers not connected to the grid discounted utility bills. On November 9, the two utilities sought California Public Utilities Commission approval for tariffs that would provide a 20 percent discount on electricity rates to agricultural customers who replace polluting diesel irrigation pumps with electric equipment. Farmers now consume the equivalent of about 500 MW, but how many might switch to electric irrigation pumps and become utility customers remains to be seen. However, discounted power, assuming regulatory approval, coupled with air-pollution cleanup requirements in the smoggy Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, is expected to trigger a good number of conversions. ?It is another opportunity for our members to help solve air-quality problems in an economic way,? said Karen Mills, a lawyer with the California Farm Bureau. The 5,700 diesel-powered irrigation pumps in the Central Valley create about 11,600 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and 850 tons of particulate matter (PM) per year, according to the California Air Resources Board. The Central Valley exceeds federal health protection standards for ozone and PM. NOx forms fine particulate pollution and reacts with reactive organic gases to form ozone; these are linked to lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, early death, and lower crop yields. ?I would encourage those farmers who will benefit from the program to help us clean the air by retiring stationary diesel engines, which have been identified as a significant source of air pollution in the Central Valley,? said Mike Chrisman, California Resources Agency secretary. Under the proposed tariff, agricultural customers would have two years to sign up for the 20 percent discounted rate. The rate would rise 1.5 percent a year over the program?s 10-year life. The price of electricity also would rise and fall depending on what time of day the power is consumed. According to Mills, fluctuating rates tracked by time-of-use meters are standard for the agricultural community. Many farmers are a considerable distance from the grid, but they are not expected to pay much for connections. The cost of a hookup would be offset by the value of the NOx reduction credits and power usage, and the farmer would receive a ratepayer-subsidized ?allowance.? Akbar Jazayeri, Edison director of revenue and tariffs, said the offset would be a ?reward for the environmental benefit.? Power consumption determines the cost of the credit, or allowance, currently given to ratepayers to fund grid connections??be it to a home, business, or farm. Currently the credit is about $10,000 per ratepayer, and the allowance would increase to about $32,000 per farmer under the proposal before state regulators, according to Jon Tremayne, PG&E spokesperson. The proposed discount program also would require retirement of any emission credits linked to the permitted diesel engines, the destruction of those engines, and efficiency tests for the new electric pumps. The investor-owned utilities said that all their customers would benefit from bringing farmers onto the grid because it would allow utilities to spread fixed costs over a larger number of customers. State and regional air boards, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the American Lung Association support the proposal before the CPUC. The commission may vote on the tariff next spring.