Utility customers across California, including hundreds of thousands with PG&E and MCE in multiple Bay Area counties, will see their rate plans automatically change early next year to one that will charge more for electricity used between the peak demand hours of 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. each day unless customers actively choose to keep their current plan.

The privately owned utility PG&E and nonprofit community choice aggregation program MCE issued a joint announcement about the planned changes set to take effect in March 2022 that will affect nearly 338,000 customers in Contra Costa, Marin, Solano and Napa counties who are currently on a tiered rate plan called E-1.

The California Public Utilities Commission is requiring investor-owned utilities to automatically transition people to “time-of-use” (TOU) rate plans to encourage electricity usage in times besides the 4-9 p.m. range since renewable energy resources like solar and wind power are more plentiful and demand is lower during those non-peak hours.

The Utility Reform Network (TURN), a San Francisco-based consumer advocacy group, has said their advocacy helped ensure that people always have the option of opting out of the TOU rates and that the TOU pricing plan will also include automatic bill protection for up to 12 months, so people charged more for it than their current plan will have that difference reimbursed for the first year.

The TOU policy change has already been implemented in other counties and first started in 2018 when about 150,000 customers across PG&E’s service area were randomly selected for the first phase of transitions.

Of the newest customers to transition in March 2022 in the four Bay Area counties, which are all part of MCE — formerly Marin Clean Energy — about 202,000 are in Contra Costa County, 53,000 are in Marin County, 51,000 are in Solano County and nearly 31,000 are in Napa County. Customers should receive notifications by mail starting this month about the changes.

People can visit online to compare rates between PG&E current plans and the TOU change and decide whether to keep their current plan or switch it. PG&E also offers more information about the TOU plans on its website.