By Kaiba White
The Austin Energy rate case is proceeding and is now before the Austin City Council.
Some quick background: Austin Energy, the capital city’s municipally owned electric utility, requested to raise customer rates earlier this year. Several steps in the process will culminate with a vote by the Austin City Council. That Council vote is expected to take place in November or December.
Public Citizen and its partners, the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club and Solar United Neighbors, have formally objected to Austin Energy’s proposal. You can read about some of our objections here. The main concern is that the proposal threatens conservation and sustainability efforts and will cause rate shock that will impact vulnerable communities the most.
An Independent Hearing Examiner issued his recommendations in early September, a standard part of Austin Energy rate change requests. The IHE agreed with our position on the rate shock the proposal would cause. But the IHE would not go as far as to disagree with Austin Energy’s proposal, leaving it up to City Council to address impacts on consumers.
We have asked the City Council to reject and modify the IHE’s recommendation in several ways. A few of them include the following:
Reject Austin Energy’s request to raise the fixed monthly fee that all customers pay regardless of how much electricity they use. Austin Energy wants it to go from $10 to $25
Keep the current five-tier rate structure. Alternatively, move to a four-tier residential rate structure with tiers set in a way that encourages conservation.
Reject Austin Energy’s proposal for continuing to pour money into the Fayette Power Plant and passing those expenses on to customers. Austin Energy co-owns the polluting, coal-burning plant with the Lower Colorado River Authority. Austin Energy had committed to end its use of the plant by the end of 2022 but has since backtracked on that pledge.
Reject the proposed changes to the Value of Solar (VoS) tariff. The VoS is the rate at which Austin Energy pays customers with solar panels for any electricity they produce. Austin Energy wants this tariff to be variable, but we believe doing so would cause uncertainty about whether adopting solar is a worthwhile investment.
After the IHE’s report, representatives of the Public Citizen-Sierra Club-Solar United Neighbors position took their case to the city’s Electric Utility Commission. You can watch that presentation here (at approximately the 1:36 mark).
We will keep you posted as this rate case develops. Don’t forget to contact the Council and ask members to consider alternatives to Austin Energy’s request.