Monday, December 8, 2014 by Tyler Whitson

Council mulls future of Austin Energy Committee

City Council members and Austin Energy staff had a candid discussion about the future of the Council Committee on Austin Energy at its last meeting with current membership, with both parties agreeing that the meetings have been very beneficial to the city.

Council Member Bill Spelman pointed out that an item on the topic was “always on our agenda and has never been discussed yet.” He added that staff can likely assume that there will be a committee in the future, but the details are up in the air. “Beyond that point, there be dragons,” he said, prompting chuckles from those in attendance.

Members of the public will also have an opportunity to air their thoughts on the matter at the next and final meeting of the current Council next Thursday, where the city has scheduled a public hearing on “the structure of Council committees, how Council committees provide Council oversight for City departments and Council meeting management.”

Ultimately, the decision and details will be up to the new Council.

At the request of Council Member Laura Morrison, Austin Energy General Manager Larry Weis provided his thoughts on the committee. “I think that this has allowed Austin Energy a little deeper dive for the Council to get into the issues and save time at the regular Council meetings,” he said.

“I really appreciate the interest and the dedication that this Council has put into this,” Weis added. “You know more about the electric utility industry than you did before I came here, I think.”

Morrison made a comment that evoked applause from attendees, referring to the energy generation resource plan that Council and Austin Energy staff have been crafting with input from stakeholders over several committee meetings.

“I am 100 percent certain that we wouldn’t be where we are with the (generation) plan … today if we didn’t have this committee and the time that we can all delve into it and learn from you and provide input,” Morrison said.

Council will consider adopting the plan next Thursday.

Council Member Mike Martinez said he hopes that the future Council will continue to hold committee meetings, though it may not need to meet as frequently the current Council has over the past year. He added that, among other things, Council was dealing with a rate challenge early last year that consumer advocacy groups brought through the Public Utility Commission.

“We went through a very tough rate case, adopted some very tough resolutions and realized that this is the most appropriate way to handle this, for all of us to come together, talk about this openly in public and have our stakeholders here,” Martinez said.

Council directed the City Manager to create the committee through a May 2013 resolution, stating that it would “provide a regular public forum to hold in-depth discussions regarding the major issues facing the utility, engage with diverse stakeholders, and make recommendations to the full Council for final action.”

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

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 Utility Oversight Committee: The Austin City Council committee on Austin Energy was created in May 2013 to provide oversight of the city's electric utility. It's creation was marked by political maneuvering that ultimately resulted in a committee comprised of every member of the Austin City Council.

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