Austin Energy Spent Summer Surplus Without City Council Approval

By Bill Oakey – November 28, 2022

For the past several months, consumer advocates have tried to break through Austin Energy’s transparency barrier, for details on the huge revenue surplus that the utility earned from the historic summer heatwave. The critical question is how much un-budgeted base revenue did they reel in, from mid-May through mid-September? The public still has never been told. And yet, Austin Energy wants the City Council to approve a conservation-busting, highly controversial base rate increase, as soon as this week. We simply can’t let that happen! Our hard-working families and small business owners deserve a better solution.

Where Was the Required Budget Amendment?

Austin City policy requires departments to seek City Council approval, by way of a budget amendment, if they want to significantly raise or lower their annual budget. Austin Energy has routinely complied, as recently as late September. But there is no visible record of any budget amendment request to spend the surplus summer base revenue. We are talking about tens of millions of dollars, from the biggest and longest triple-digit heatwave in Austin history. It is conceivably possible that the utility did request a budget amendment. But, if so, it was done at a low-profile meeting, and it left no online tracks.

A Google search for “Austin Energy”  “budget amendment” shows only these two recent results:

1. Sept. 29, 2022 – Budget amendment to increase monthly electric charges related to fuel and ERCOT expenses. This was the double-dose of rate shock that hit at midnight on Halloween.

2. April 9, 2020 – Budget amendment to authorize $15 million in COVID relief.

Back on July 22nd, I suggested on the 6:00 PM KXAN-TV News, that the summer surplus should wipe out the need for a rate increase. It is time for City officials to finally explain why San Antonio’s public utility gave nearly $50 million back to their ratepayers from their summer surplus, while Austin Energy kept the money and asked for a rate increase. No other Central Texas utility has asked for a rate increase. And the vast majority of large Texas utilities maintain a standard $10 monthly customer charge. Austin citizens, who literally own Austin Energy, deserve much better transparency, and the more prudent financial management, in the face of record inflation and our affordability crisis.

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