Friday, December 6, 2013 by Jo Clifton

PUC: Non-city utility customers must pay legal fees

The Texas Public Utility Commission has dismissed a complaint filed by a group of non-City of Austin ratepayers against Austin Energy. That dismissal means that ratepayers who are not Austin residents will foot the $1.55 million bill for the utility’s legal fees related to a rate case settled earlier this year.

 

So, those who filed the case, as well as their neighbors outside the city, will pay for that appeal.

 

Filed by Homeowners United for Rate Fairness, or HURF, the complaint urged the commission to overturn a decision by the Austin City Council instructing Austin Energy to charge non-city ratepayers for the legal costs of HURF’s appeal of the electric rates. HURF and the city settled that case April 29 of this year.

 

Among the items that HURF won in the settlement was a reduction in revenue of $5.75 million for out-of-city ratepayers. In addition, the utility changed its rate structure to charge the same rates to the top three tiers – those using the most electricity. Those customers are also paying less into the fund to help lower income customers.

 

Austin Energy spokesman Carlos Cordova told In Fact Daily Thursday that the out-of-city ratepayers will pay for the rate case through a “charge . . . collected as a Temporary Regulatory Charge over the course of about two years beginning with January bills in 2014.” He said once the utility has recovered its expenses the temporary charge will stop.

 

HURF attorney Roger Borgelt could not be reached for comment.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council Public Utility Committee: A City Council committee that reviews issues related to water and drainage utilities.

Austin Energy: As a municipally-owned electric utility, Austin Energy is a rarity in the largely deregulated State of Texas. It's annual budget clocks in at over $1 billion. The utility's annual direct transfer of a Council-determined percentage of its revenues offers the city a notable revenue stream.

Austin Energy 2012 rate increase: 2012 marked the first time in roughly two decades that the city's municipally-owned electric utility asked for an increase in the rates it charges customers. The process took about a year to wind its way through deliberation, passage, and an expected challenge from ratepayers outside city limits who challenged the increase at the State's Public Utility Commission.

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