Utility regulators are noting all around the country that since corporate tax rates have been lowered from 35 percent to 21 percent, utilities should pass on those savings to ratepayers.
Don’t expect your San Diego Gas & Electric bills to go down. Its parent, San Diego–based Sempra Energy, hasn’t paid corporate taxes since 2008. Sempra officially says, “Sempra Energy is evaluating the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.”
Ha-ha. Here’s how this story unfolds. Recently, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy calculated that 18 Fortune 500 companies had not paid corporate taxes for several years. One of those companies was Sempra. It had not paid corporate taxes from 2008 through 2015. Between those years, Sempra had earned $7 billion in profit but received $34 million back from the government, for a yearly tax rate of minus 0.5 percent.
Sempra admitted this to the Union-Tribune, saying it had used legal means to avoid taxes in those years. I called Sempra and said I wanted to know if it had paid those taxes in 2016 and 2017. I got a return message from Amber Albrecht, a senior public relations executive, who said that certain incentives “reduced Sempra Energy’s federal tax liabilities in 2016 and 2017.”
I wrote her back and said that didn’t answer my question. Did Sempra pay any corporate taxes in 2016 and 2017? She wrote back and confessed: Sempra had not paid corporate taxes in those two years either.
Then she wrote back and made this outlandish claim: “Any tax benefits at Sempra Energy’s two California utilities are passed on to customers, resulting in lower rates for our customers.”
“Utter hogwash and balderdash!” I screamed, but only to myself. I sent Albrecht some items I had written showing that SDG&E has had the consistently highest rates in the nation. The Jacksonville Electric Authority regularly publishes rates charged by U.S. utilities. Quarter after quarter over a number of years, SDG&E’s rates were either the highest or almost the highest in the land. After I wrote about that, SDG&E stopped providing the rates to Jacksonville, which confirmed that corporate artifice to me.
Southern California Public Power Authority published a chart on residential rates for 1000 kilowatts in 2014. SDG&E’s rates were $374. Second was Pacific Gas & Electric at $271. Rates of municipal utilities were around half of the rates of the three investor-owned California utilities. Richard Rider of San Diego Tax Fighters, using data he got from inside SDG&E, said in 2013 that SDG&E residential rates were 62 percent higher than the median-priced utility in the Jacksonville survey.
I asked Albrecht to respond by 11 a.m. West Coast time. After I heard nothing, I emailed and asked if she would respond. She said she had passed it on to SDG&E. I have still not heard a word from SDG&E.