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Austin Energy Customers Could Soon Have a Say in Rate Hikes

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Flickr/JVK
With a rate increase in the near future, the Austin City Council is suggesting a third-party to represent Austin Energy customers.

Every five years Austin Energy reevaluates the rates it charges customers. That process will begin in the spring when, for the first time, there will be an independent advocate at the table speaking for Austin Energy customers.

The voice of residential Austin Energy customers was previously little more than a whisper. But, after a 2012 rate increase, the previous Austin City Council decided they wanted to turn up the volume on customer complaints after some backlash.

“We then spent months really looking at them and having 11 extra work sessions and whatnot, really digging into the issues, and that really threw us off schedule,” says Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, who was on council during the 2012 rate hike discussions.

After months of public hearings, council passed that increase and, now, Tovo and the rest of the Austin City Council will hire an independent advocate to speak for residents and small business owners.

It’s a tricky process, though. Council members were set to approve a contract for an advocate on Thursday. But they didn’t like what they heard about the New York-based company. Council Member Pio Renteria and others were wary of a third party from New York understanding the lay of the land.

“I’m really concerned whether this company in New York can come into Austin, come into Texas, and really look at these rates,” Renteria said.

Council Member Leslie Pool, among others, also voiced skepticism, with Pool suggesting taking the proposal back to the drawing board.

City staff say they put out a request for bids, but only got two responses. Council members will tackle the issue again at their Austin Energy meeting on Dec. 3.

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