Austin Energy rates are going up starting today
Austin Energy's new electricity rates kick in today.
Late last year, Austin Energy finalized a monthslong negotiation ordeal to raise its rates. Customers can expect to see an increase on what the utility charges for electricity as well as an increase in Austin Energy's flat-rate customer charge from $10 to $13.
The utility says residential customers can expect on average a $9 increase total starting this month. But those increases could go higher this summer, when the utility's customers typically use the most electricity to stifle Texas' oppressive heat.
The rate hike aims to cover a roughly $30 million revenue gap. The utility loses money when it provides electricity to its customers for various reasons. It's expensive to maintain transmission lines, high natural gas prices make generating electricity more costly, and Austin Energy's rates have historically incentivized customers to use less electricity.
Paul Robbins, who previously served on the utility's oversight commission, was one of a handful of advocates who lobbied the Austin City Council to approve a rate increase that would be less of a burden on low-usage customers. Because Austin Energy is a public utility, the rate hike ultimately had to go before the Austin City Council for approval. In the end, council, customer advocates and the utility struck a compromise that didn't raise rates as high as Austin Energy's initial proposal.
Still, Robbins said Austin Energy's new rates don't incentivize conservation, compared to historically progressive structures in the utility's past going back decades. Under the new structure, customers using the least electricity are going to be charged disproportionately more for service.
He says that can cause sticker shock for low-income customers, or what he calls "rate-pain."
"Starting around June 1 to the end of September, that's the the peak season in this utility," Robbins told KUT Tuesday. "And the rate-pain is going to be particularly high."
During negotiations over the rate increase, advocates also pushed the utility to agree to a smaller increase in the flat-rate customer charge. Initially Austin Energy wanted a $25 a month charge, but it agreed to increase that charge this year to $13, then to $14 and $15 over the next two years.
Austin Energy did not provide a comment for this story.