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Should the City Council Set Electric Rates?

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This isn't for the birds: The protracted redesign of Austin Energy rates has the city looking at options for governing the city-owned utility.

The Austin City Council recently approved new electric rates for Austin Energy customers.

That’s because the utility is city-owned and in Austin, the City Council sets rates and regulations for the utility.  

But that could change soon.  Last month, the council passed a resolution asking the city Electric Utility Commission to examine new ways to govern the utility. The measure, sponsored by council member Bill Spelman, specifically directed the EUC to examine “the impacts on local control and public participation, effects on  bond ratings, legal and municipal charter issues, and impacts on utility and regional finances.”

Austin Energy could follow the San Antonio model. It also has a city-owned power company, but a separate Board of Trustees oversees its operations. A similar arrangement could help Austin Energy politically, as customers outside of city limits argue they’re under-represented at the utility.

But time may be running out. Any large change to Austin Energy’s governance, like opting for a board of directors, would require voters to approve a change to the city charter. Charter elections can only occur once every two years, and with one in the works this November, the council has to set the ballot by August.

That said, the council could make smaller changes absent a charter election, like giving out-of-town ratepayers an advisory role. 

The Electric Utility Commission meets tonight at Austin Energy’s Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs, at 6 p.m. 

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