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Major Texas Utility, Losing Customers, Reorganizes

Photo courtesy LCRA

A reorganization is underway at the Lower Colorado River Authority, a major wholesale supplier of water and electricity in Central Texas.

In a memo dated last Thursday, the LCRA's new general manager, Rebecca Motal, announced that four senior positions have been eliminated.

The LCRA, a quasi-state utility, has been struggling to retain electric customers. According to Motal's memo, the agency has lost 10 of 43 electric customers, and even some who remained have decided to get some portion of their electricity from other sources.

"Electric revenues, which make up approximately 72 percent of LCRA's overall revenue, could drop by as much as 50 percent when the current electric contracts expire in 2016," she wrote.

Motal urged the staff to look for ways to operate more efficiently. "Staff reductions may be necessary, but they will be a last resort as we move to reduce costs and be more competitive," she wrote. A first-ever LCRA-wide "town hall" will be held tomorrow afternoon for employees, she said.

In thinking about potential changes Motal said she had engaged a consulting firm, Booz & Co, which submitted a report last week. The board (which is appointed by the Texas governor) is "strongly supportive of this reorganization," she wrote. 

The positions eliminated were: executive manager of wholesale power services; the chief of staff of wholesale power services; the chief administrative officer; and the chief procurement officer. 

The LCRA has also been crafting a long-term water management plan for the Highland Lakes that supply water to Austin and other central Texas cities as well as rice farmers far downstream. Amid the worsening drought, these are now at 43 percent of capacity.

The agency has also been under scrutiny as it has considered whether to grant a long-term water contract to aproposed coal plant outside Bay City. Earlier this month , the LCRA boardcanceleda vote on the contract.

Kate Galbraith reported on clean energy for The New York Times from 2008 to 2009, serving as the lead writer for the Times' Green blog. She began her career at The Economist in 2000 and spent 2005 to 2007 in Austin as the magazine's Southwest correspondent. A Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University from 2007 to 2008, she has an undergraduate degree in English from Harvard and a master's degree from the London School of Economics.
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