Updated 1 month ago

Why California electricity bills are so high and what you can do about it

Written by Ben Zientara , Edited by Catherine Lane

Why California electricity bills are so high and what you can do about it

Find out how much solar panels can save on your electricity bills

Californians use less energy than the national average, but the state’s high electricity rates mean their electricity bills are more expensive than the national average.

In 2024, the average electricity bill in California is $186, which is over 29% higher than the average U.S. residential bill of $144.

California electricity bills have never been higher, mostly due to huge increases in electricity rates approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). And customers of the big three investor-owned utility companies—Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E)—often pay much more than the California average price per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

Your bill varies based on your electric utility, the kind of home you live in, and the amount of energy you use. For example, PG&E now charges more for electricity than SCE or SDG&E. Also, people living in single-family homes use significantly more electricity than people living in apartment buildings, and people with all-electric appliances use more than those with gas appliances.

We’ll cover all these differences below and discuss how you can save money by conserving energy, switching to a Time of Use rate plan, and of course, getting solar panels for your home. If you’ve been pulling your hair out because of California’s high electricity costs, you’ve come to the right place.

See how much you can save by going solar

Key takeaways

  • The average electricity bill in California is $189, based on a monthly usage of 643 kilowatt-hours and an average residential rate of 28.9 cents per kilowatt-hour.

  • The average electricity rate in California rose 9.5% in 2023 compared to 2022, and rates from specific utility companies like PG&E increased by much more than that.

  • The average California electricity bill differs based on your utility company and the kind of home you live in.

  • Californians who live in single-family homes have average bills of between $152 and $415 per month, depending on their utility company.

  • There are several ways to reduce your California electricity bills, including low-income assistance programs, Time of Use rates, and adding solar panels to your home.

  • Californians who add solar panels can save thousands of dollars per year, paying back the initial cost of their investment in just 8 to 10  years and enjoying decades of essentially free solar energy.

Average California electricity bills by utility and housing type

Graph showing the difference between the average California electricitiy bill and the U.S. average electricity bill

Each California utility charges different rates based on their unique mix of energy sources and the total cost to serve their customers. That means people in some places pay much more per kWh than others. SDG&E customers pay higher rates than customers of SCE, even though the utilities serve areas that are neighbors in some places.

There is also a huge difference in how much energy people use depending on the kind of home they live in.

Average electricity bills for single-family detached homes

Genability, a utility rate database that provides data for our solar savings calculator, shows that the residents in a single-family detached home in California use an average of 10,500 kWh per year. That’s 875 kWh per month, which is enough usage to cause customers of some utilities to pay a slightly higher price per kWh, based on the fact that they use more energy than the average customer.

Here’s a breakdown of the differences for each utility:

Utility

Rate plan

Average rate

Monthly cost

LADWP

R-1-A

$0.241

$219

PG&E

E-1

$0.482

$415

SCE

D Domestic

$0.385

$326

SDG&E

DR Domestic

$0.443

$378

SMUD

R-TOD

$0.170

$148

How do those average bills look, other than making everyone in the state want to move to Sacramento or Los Angeles? You can see from the above tables that SDG&E customers are paying a TON of money for electricity, but everyone in California is still paying over the national average of $0.16/kWh.

Average electricity bills for apartments

People who live in apartment buildings with more than five units use an average of just 5,000 kWh per year—less than half of the single-family home number.

That makes sense. Apartments are more efficient because they’re typically smaller and often share walls, ceilings, and floors with other units, meaning their heating and cooling needs are much less. Apartment dwellers also benefit from the tiered rate plans used by most California utilities—if you use less, your average cost per kWh is lower.

Here’s a look at average monthly bills for apartments:

Utility

Rate plan

Average rate

Monthly cost

LADWP

R-1-A

$0.215

$98

PG&E

E-1

$0.435

$175

SCE

D Domestic

$0.343

$132

SDG&E

DR Domestic

$0.399

$156

SMUD

R-TOD

$0.146

$85

Similar to single family homes, the average bills for apartments served by municipal utilities in Sacramento and Los Angeles are lower, while customers of the big investor-owned utilities pay more.

Changes in the cost of electricity over time

The average rate of increase in electricity prices in the United States over the past 25 years has been around 2% per year. Unfortunately, most California residents have experienced much quicker growth in the prices they pay for power. In just the past ten years, the average growth rate across all California utilities was more than 7.7% per year.

Here’s a table showing the average growth rates over the past ten years for customers of the five big California utilities we’re covering:

Utility

2014 avg. rate/kWh

2024 avg. rate/kWh

Annual % increase

LADWP

$0.150

$0.230

4.37%

PG&E

$0.207

$0.462

9.33%

SCE

$0.195

$0.367

7.28%

SDG&E

$0.206

$0.424

8.35%

SMUD

$0.131

$0.146

1.21%

The reasons for these high rates of increase are numerous. Two of the most important are major upticks in the cost of natural gas used by power plants and rising costs associated with the upkeep of the electric grid. The cost to run the grid has skyrocketed as utilities strengthen their infrastructure to prevent or repair damage from wind storms and wildfires. Sadly, some California utilities have been allowed to pass the costs of those wildfires onto ratepayers.

What will happen to the cost of electricity in the future?

As we mentioned above, electricity costs in the United States have tended to increase around 2% per year over the long term, and California’s electricity costs have increased by much more than that in recent years. Does that mean California utilities will slow their requests for rate increases, and things will even out? Not likely.

In their current rate cases, PG&E and SDG&E both propose increases in the double digits over the coming few years. Estimates show that rates may increase between 32% and 50% for some California residents between 2022 and 2026. That could mean average monthly bills of close to $500 for homeowners by the second half of the decade.

Ouch.

How to reduce your California electricity bill

So what can be done to counteract the effects of high electricity bills? There are a few proven strategies that work in California:

  • Invest in energy efficiency

  • Sign up for reduced rates based on your income

  • Switch to a Time of Use rate plan and shift energy usage to off-peak times

  • Get solar panels installed and start saving money as soon as they’re fully interconnected

Here’s some information about each of those strategies:

Energy efficiency

It might not be surprising to hear that the first suggestion when it comes to energy savings is simply using less energy. By purchasing energy-efficient appliances and devices, you can reduce your monthly energy bills by a lot. Increase the amount of insulation in your walls, floors, and attic; replace any light bulbs that fail with new LED energy saving light bulbs; switch to a smart thermostat that can automatically control HVAC appliances; and choose a heat pump water heater.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provides funding for replacing old, inefficient appliances with new ones, with rebates of 50% to 100% of the cost (based on income) as well as tax credits. Many of the programs funded by the IRA have yet to be developed by state governments, so keep an eye on Rewiring America for more information.

Income-qualified savings programs

There are currently two main income-based programs that help Californians lower their utility bills: California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) and Family Electric Rate Assistance Program (FERA). These programs are available to customers of PG&E, SCE, SDG&E, SoCalGas, Alpine Nat'l Gas, Bear Valley Elect, PacifiCorp, Liberty Utilities, Southwest Gas, and West Coast Gas.

The CARE program offers discounts of between 20 and 35% off electricity and gas bills for families whose income is less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. FERA covers those whose incomes slightly exceed CARE requirements, offering 18% discounts on electricity bills to families whose incomes are between 200% and 250% of the same guidelines.

Helpfully, the CPUC offers a web page with more information about the programs and their income limits based on family size and links to each of the companies’ own sites about their programs.

People served by LADWP can sign up for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), with similar income limits. SMUD offers its own program called the Energy Assistance Program Rate (EAPR). If you’re not covered by any of the programs mentioned above, check with your utility provider to see what they offer.

Time of Use rate plans

All of the utilities listed in the tables above offer Time of Use rate plans, under which electricity is more expensive when there is high demand on the grid (such as the evening hours when people return home from work to use appliances and air conditioning) and less expensive when demand falls (usually overnight and midday).

We won’t get into all the complexities of these plans here, but we will provide one more comparison table. The table below shows the possible savings from shifting all the 875 kWh monthly usage for a single-family detached house to off-peak times. This isn’t representative of what the actual savings on a TOU plan might be, but it does serve as a good way to compare each company’s plan.

Utility

Normal monthly bill

Best possible TOU bill

Difference

LADWP

$219

$206

$13

PG&E

$415

$346

$69

SCE

$325

$309

$14

SDG&E

$378

$321

$57

The examples above show that it’s not necessarily a huge benefit to switching to a TOU plan for LADWP or PG&E customers, but SCE and SDG&E customers can save a good deal of money. These plans tend to work best for people willing to wait to use big appliances like clothes dryers and dishwashers after 9 PM or set electric vehicles to charge overnight.

Note: SMUD does not appear in the above table because it only offers TOU rates to its residential customers. There have been indications that all California utilities will switch to mandatory TOU rates at some point in the future. If you go solar in California today, you are required to sign up for a TOU rate.

Getting solar panels installed

Getting solar panels in California is still the very best way to reduce your energy costs (we might be a little biased but we swear it’s true). Unfortunately, the rules surrounding California home solar installations changed in 2023, meaning the savings are not as large as they once were.

The new rules are covered under a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) decision referred to as NEM 3.0. The actual rate plan you’ll be signing up for if you get solar panels is called “Net Billing.”

The way it works is basically this: energy your solar panels produce that gets used in your home goes toward reducing your electric bill by offsetting energy that you would have purchased at the high rates listed above. Any energy you can’t use when it’s produced is sent back to the grid, and the utility company offers you a credit for it on your next bill. Unfortunately, under Net Billing, these credits are a fraction of the price you have to pay for electricity from the grid when you need it. 

One way to avoid losing out is to use more of your own solar energy, either by keeping your usage high when the sun is up or by storing the excess energy in a battery for later use. Unfortunately, batteries add expense to the system, meaning you either save more and pay more for a solar+battery installation or save less and pay less for a solar-only installation. 

Either one of these options isn’t a bad decision, per se, but your specific needs will determine which one is best for you. Speaking of specific needs, your needs will determine how many batteries you need in California.

If you’re interested in going solar, you can start by visiting our solar panel cost calculator. Just put in your ZIP code and last month’s electricity bill, and the calculator will produce an estimate of your roof’s solar production, the possible savings considering any California solar incentives that might be available, and the exact rate structures from Genability used to generate the estimates in this article.

Calculate the cost of solar panels for your specific home
Written by Ben Zientara Solar Policy Analyst

Ben Zientara is a writer, researcher, and solar policy analyst who has written about the residential solar industry, the electric grid, and state utility policy since 2013. His early work included leading the team that produced the annual State Solar Power Rankings Report for the Solar Power Rocks website from 2015 to 2020. The rankings were utilized and referenced by a diverse mix of policymakers, advocacy groups, and media including The Center...

Learn more about Ben Zientara