Workman: Austin’s energy purchases are headed in wrong direction


The Austin City Council has taken action to approve the purchase of a large amount of solar power, running contrary to their stated goals on affordability. City energy policies should be driven by affordability, economic realities and the need to deliver reliable electricity to customers. Instead, these policy decisions are being driven by social engineering.

City leaders have tried to make the argument that their recent solar purchases carry the cheapest cost per kilowatt hour (kWh) of solar power in the nation — and perhaps they are. However, the spot market prices for traditional sources of energy are much less than the long-term KWh cost of solar power. The city also attempted to justify the purchase by saying that when natural gas prices increase, the purchase of the solar power at 3.8 cents/KWh will turn out to be a better deal for the Austin ratepayer. The problem is, there is no anticipation of natural gas prices increasing any time soon. Solar prices will continue to fall and, perhaps, someday will be as competitive as traditional sources of energy. If we need to purchase power now, we should be purchasing it at the lowest possible cost to the ratepayers.

Furthermore, the city’s outrageous cost per kWh (about 15 cents/KWh) for its Webberville solar plant and the nearly-never-used biomass plant — which costs around $54 million per year — have increased cost burdens paid by ratepayers. Both of these purchases, by previous councils, were based purely on the desire to be “green” without regard to the cost to the ratepayers of Austin Energy. They are unnecessarily increasing rates for Austin Energy customers both inside and outside the city limits when power could be purchased for as little as 2.5 cents per kWh.

My concerns remain deep, even after meeting with the Austin mayor, his staff and Austin Energy leadership. The meeting, which was requested by the mayor to help me understand, failed to persuade me that the decision was about affordability.

Austin Energy ratepayers know current costs are unaffordable. The City Council has made matters worse with their recent decisions, adding to the already-high costs shouldered by captive ratepayers. The city needed to, at a minimum, establish a plan to move Austin Energy rates into at least the lower 50 percent of Texas electric rates.

I believe the increasing cost burden to the Austin Energy ratepayer will result in the loss of jobs and decisions by job-providing companies to decline to expand or locate in Austin.

Why are the actions of a city-owned utility the concern of the state legislature? Austin Energy is a division of the Austin city government and its ratepayers are captive customers to a state-law approved monopoly.

During this past legislative session, I advanced a measure that would have helped alleviate the cost burden to Austin Energy ratepayers. This bill and a companion Senate bill were not pursued further after the mayor committed to “moving to end the practice of charging rate payers for expense[s] that might be hard to defend as being ones appropriately paid by ratepayers.” The city council’s recently adopted budget and dramatically increasing solar purchases are arguably in conflict with this commitment.

Austin Energy’s own presentation to the City Council’s Austin Energy Utility Oversight Committee makes it clear the mayor and council know the risks of increasing the costs to Austin Energy ratepayers: “Any cost additions on AE’s part risks further erosion of our competitive position and could invite legislative intervention.”

I will continue to closely watch these and other actions to assess what adjustments will be needed to state law to help Austin Energy customers to purchase reliable, affordable electricity

First elected in 2010, Workman represents District 47 in the Texas House of Representatives, which includes most of western Travis County and portions of southern Travis County.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Opinion: Trump, meet a hero whom you maligned

In 1885, a poor, uneducated 16-year-old boy arrived in our country from Germany at a time when immigrants were often looked down on by affluent Americans. This boy was ambitious and entrepreneurial, and, despite language problems, he earned some money and then traveled up to the Klondike during the gold rush to operate a hotel that became notorious...
Herman: Your governor needs even more money
Herman: Your governor needs even more money

Today, it is my sad duty to come to you with a tale of greed, avarice and Possibly Everything That’s Wrong With America. It comes in the form of two emails that hit my inbox within hours of each other. One came from our governor and the other came on behalf of our governor, a man with an insatiable desire to get some money out of your pocket...
ANALYSIS: Trump doesn’t understand Haiti, immigration nor U.S. history
ANALYSIS: Trump doesn’t understand Haiti, immigration nor U.S. history

Donald Trump’s denigrating comments about Haiti during a recent congressional meeting shocked people around the globe, but given his track record of disrespecting immigrants, they were not actually that surprising. Despite campaign promises that Trump would be Haiti’s “biggest champion,” his administration had...
Opinion: Republicans must lead in upcoming abortion debate

This year, as every year, I will be joining the hundreds of thousands who will be arriving in Washington, D.C., for the March for Life, noting the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion on demand in our country. The event has taken place every year since 1973 and will continue to take place every year until this disastrous...
John Young: Real meaning for that red ball cap
John Young: Real meaning for that red ball cap

Wherever he resides in the afterlife, George Carlin is having a bleeping good time. One of the comedian’s “seven words you can’t say on TV” is being said on TV over and over again – starts with “sh” and features “it” — and getting bleeped, or someone is attempting a weak euphemism. The thing...
More Stories