Austin City Council Prepares to Take Austin Energy Away from Public

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UPDATE: The Mayor has postponed the vote this morning; the agenda item will now be up for a vote on May 23. A large number of citizens – including myself – had already scheduled the time to talk and discuss this tonight; it's a shame it got pulled so quickly and with such little notice. More here on the postponement. On the upside, it gives me more time to publicly research and write about the companies and corporations who are pressuring Leffingwell on this issue.

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The City of Austin – led by Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell – is preparing to take away control of Austin Energy from the public. If you want to take action, go here.

Currently, Austin Energy is managed by the City Council, which means citizens of Austin can hold those who make decisions about our energy policies directly accountable. Austin Energy is our city's largest asset, and when the people of Austin voted for Mayor Leffingwell and our City Council members, we voted for them to be in control of Austin Energy. Now, instead of asking citizens to vote on a charter amendment so voters can decide the future of Austin Energy, Mayor Leffingwell and City Council are preparing to take the power away from us without asking.

Mayor Leffingwell did not run on this issue. As I told him the first time Council considered this a few weeks ago, I would not have voted for him if he had announced this while he was running. I was in the minority of Austin environmentalists when I kept my support behind Leffingwell over Brigid Shea. I now believe I made a mistake.

This Thursday, at Austin City Hall, there will be a second and third reading on this proposal. Please speak out against an un-elected Austin Energy board.

Read more about what this proposed ordinance does below the jump.  Here's what the proposed ordinance does:

  • The Un-Elected Board: Creates the Electric Utility Board, an un-elected board of six members, plus the Mayor, for a total of 7 members. The six non-elected members must “reside in the service area of the electric utility” – and one must not be in the city of Austin. The 6 non-elected members are appointed by Council with a 2/3 vote to four-year terms. The Mayor cannot serve as an officer.

    I'd like to state how ludicrous it is once you compare the requirements to be on the 10-1 redistricting commission compared to becoming a full-time manager of Austin Energy. Basically if I have 4 members of City Council who think I'm cool, I get to have huge control over the energy of all of Austin. Again – ludicrous.

  • All Decisions Worth Less Than $100 Million Won't Require Council Approval: In other words, almost all decisions made on Austin Energy are now in the hands of an un-elected board.

Karen Hadden with the SEED Coalition has helped create and distribute a flier with more information. In a recent e-mail to opponents of the City Council's plan, she writes:

This board structure would lead to rubberstamping of bad decisions and dramatic rate increases, as occurred in San Antonio, when the utility hid a $4.2 billion cost increase in a nuclear project from the public for a year. Giving utility control to an un-elected board risks the future of programs that we value as a community – green energy, low-income programs and customer protections. Green energy is affordable energy. They both matter and they go hand in hand. It was energy efficiency that kept rates low and allowed Austin to go for 18 years without an electric rate increase. Funding from Austin Energy pays for our parks, pools, libraries, clinics, EMS, police and fire fighters. Local jobs develop from Austin Energy programs, a dividend of utility ownership. Don't risk all this for the sake of corporate special interests. Listen to the people of Austin – and vote NO on the Austin Energy ordinance. This vote will be carefully watched and long remembered.

Almost a month ago, I stood before City Council and told them that I understand the value of an independent board to help with the workload – and I do. But an unelected board is no good. In Rick Perry's Texas, anyone who believes we can count on government officials to make fair appointments is a fool.

I'll leave you with a recent example of what happened with San Antonio's un-elected board:

CPS Energy on Tuesday proposed cutting the amount it pays for solar power generated from residential customers roughly in half, angering clean-energy activists and system installers who say the cuts would cripple the local solar industry.

“There was zero consultation with the solar industry in the development of this proposal,” said Lanny Sinkin, executive director of the advocacy group Solar San Antonio, who was made aware of the plan Monday night. “They're going to kill the solar industry.”

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About Author

Phillip Martin

Currently the Research and Policy Director for Progress Texas and the Texas Research Institute, Phillip Martin writes occasional long-form pieces for BOR that promote focused analysis and insight into Texas politics. Born and raised in Austin, Phillip started working in politics in 2003 and started writing on BOR in the summer of 2005. Phillip has worked for the Texas Democratic Trust, the Texas Legislative Study Group, and now the Progress Texas family. He is a lifelong Houston Astros fan, a loyal Longhorn, and loves swimming at Barton Springs Pool.

1 Comment

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