What to Expect at Austin Energy’s Rate Hearing Tonight
As previously noted, another public hearing on Austin Energy’s proposed rate increases – the first hearing since the city-owned utility tweaked its initial proposal – is happening tonight at City Hall. If it’s anything like the last one, the hikes will be met with vocal opposition. But what are the issues speakers are likely to bring up? We shed some light on a couple contentious topics.
Talk of Temporary Measures: One emerging theme is a call for temporary rate increases, which would bring in more for Austin Energy during its high-use summer months while the council takes a closer look at a broader rate realignment.
Austin City Council members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo are putting forward an alternate proposal for electricity rate increases. They laid out their plan this morning, ahead of tonight’s public hearing on Austin Energy’s latest proposal. “We in the past few months have heard loud and clear from the community that the Austin Energy rate proposal will have too much impact on rate payers – especially on families, our small businesses, and our faith community,” said Morrison. Morrison and Tovo’s proposal would raise Austin Energy’s revenue by 3.5 percent, though the proposal doesn’t spell out exactly how individual customer’s bills would be affected.
Should Out-of-Towners Get a Break?: By not raising their rates in 17 years, Austin Energy (and the council, which sets its policy) is in a difficult position. As the city budget has grown increasingly reliant on transfers from the utility, ratepayers living outside city limits have come to question the practice. In their revisions, Austin Energy proposed discounting out-of-towners’ bills. The Austin Chronicle has more:
Critics of the proposal say the modified rate plan that was unveiled Feb. 2 did little to make the package more acceptable for residential customers – with one largely unfavorable exception: a 6.1% discount for residents living outside Austin city limits in an attempt to ward off wrangling with the Public Utility Commission, or worse, a deregulation effort at the Legislature. "I think its being done almost as a knee-jerk reaction to people talking about appealing this decision" to the PUC, said Carol Biedrzycki, executive director of Texas Ratepayers' Organization to Save Energy. "I don't see how providing this discount to residential customers is going to stop an appeal from being filed."
Houses of the Holy: Austin’s faith community has vocally questioned the rate realignment. Reporting on Morrison’s and Tovo’s proposal, the Statesman discusses the impact on churches, describing a supporter of the council members’ alternative plan:
Churches would also be hit hard, because they have been considered residential customers but would be reclassified as commercial ones. Josh Houston, an attorney with Texas Impact, which advocates for faith-based organizations, said churches would see an average increase of 80 percent on their monthly bills, based on information provided by Austin Energy. Rev. John Wright of First United Methodist Church said it serves breakfast twice a week to between 300 and 400 homeless people, but such programs would be jeopardized by the rate increase, which he said would cost the church between $16,000 and $17,000 a year.
The rate hearing is scheduled at 6 p.m. time certain, meaning it can start no earlier (but possibly later) than the posted time.