Rep. Paul Workman (R – District 47), a longtime critic of Austin Energy, filed four bills – (HB1458, HB1459,HB1460, and HB1523) – last week that would target the public utility’s electric rates, downsize its service area, cap its payments to Austin’s city government, overhaul its governance, and allow commercial and industrial customers to shop for a better deal, according to a February 2 report by the Austin American-Statesman.
Workman’s bills come less than a year after the Austin City Council approved a $42.5 million rate cut in a deal reached by the utility, most of its major commercial and industrial customers, and groups representing city residents. The deal, the utility said, would cut the average customer’s annual bill by $62.
“These (bills) are all about affordability, we’ve got a problem in the City of Austin with affordability,” Workman told the local news outlet. The rate deal, he added, was “a step in the right direction, but there’s a lot more that they can and should do, particularly for the out-of-city ratepayers.”
“Over the last 18 months, all of our customers had an opportunity to ask for any information, interrogate our executives and examine how we do our business,” Cullick said, pointing to the recently-agreed to rate deal. “That’s not what most Texans get to do.”
The four new measures would:
- Require the Austin City Council to appoint an independent board to run the utility;
- Limit the amount of revenue the utility can provide for the city’s general budget to just 12 percent of utility revenues, which equates to $108 million, roughly the amount provided now;
- Transfer Austin Energy’s service area east of the city limits to the Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative; and those west to the Pedernales Electric Cooperative; and
- Allow major commercial and industrial customers to ask the Public Utility Commission for permission to buy electricity from other providers if they are cheaper than Austin Energy.
As part of the rate deal completed last year, Austin Energy’s large industrial and commercial customers agreed not challenge their electric rates at the PUC or ask the legislature to intervene in the utility’s management before 2020, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
However, according to the local news outlet, state lawmakers and regulators have a long history of tangling with the city over the utility and its rates. Most recently, in 2015, then-newly elected Austin Mayor Steve Adler appeared before a state Senate committee, promising reforms in an effort to ward off legislation from then-State Senator Troy Fraser (R-District 24) that could have led to deregulating the Austin Energy.
“When these bills were filed two years ago, I promised the legislature we would engage in a wide-open, independent rate review, and I delivered on that promise,” Adler said a formal statement released by his office.
Workman supported that bill, which did not make it out of the Senate. His newly introduced legislation, which would allow large customers to ask the PUC to opt out of Austin Energy, largely mirrors Fraser’s 2015 proposal, the newspaper said.