An independent survey of electric rates at 186 utilities nationwide shows that, for the first time in at least a decade, San Diego Gas & Electric's residential wintertime electric rates are lower than those charged by either Southern California Edison or Pacific Gas & Electric, the state's two other major utilities.
The survey was the second in a row to show that SDG&E; no longer charges the highest residential electric rates among the state's three largest utilities. A survey of summertime rates conducted earlier this year by the National Assn. of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) determined that SDG&E;'s electric rates had finally fallen below those charged by Edison and PG&E.;
The association conducts rate surveys twice a year because electric rates usually vary in the summer and winter seasons.
The latest surveys were welcome news for SDG&E.;
NARUC's 1987-1988 winter season survey, for example, showed that the San Diego utility had the nation's fifth-highest electric rates. That survey ranked Edison in 70th place, with PG&E; in 94th place.
Last year's wintertime electric rate survey determined that SDG&E;'s rates were lower than Edison's but higher than PG&E;'s. PG&E; serves the San Francisco Bay Area and much of Northern California.
Although rates at each of the three major California utilities actually rose during the past year, SDG&E; reported the smallest increase. Nationwide, average electric rates rose by 0.4 cents to 8.7 cents per kilowatt hour.
SDG&E;'s wintertime rates ranked 29th nationally. PG&E; ranked 25th, and Edison ranked 20th, according to the NARUC survey.
SDG&E;'s average monthly residential bill, which is based upon 500 kilowatt hours of electric use, was $55.81, according to the survey. PG&E;'s average bill was $56.01, and Edison's average bill was $59.00.
SDG&E; officials expect electric rates to remain "lower relative to the other California utilities for at least another year or so," a spokesman said.
Although SDG&E; officials declined to predict rates beyond the coming year, Michael Shames, executive director of Utility Consumers Action Network, a San Diego-based consumer group, said that "there's no technical reason that SDG&E; shouldn't have rates that are below Edison and PG&E; for the rest of the decade."