Church opposes electric rate increase for houses of worship

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – A local church says it opposes a proposal to complete a four-year transition to houses of worship paying commercial rates for their electricity over residential rates.

Austin Energy first proposed raising the rates in 2011. In a June 2016 filing, Austin Energy points out similar discounts are not regularly offered anymore in the state of Texas.

But Jared Slack, an associate pastor at First Baptist Church in downtown Austin says it means they have to spend more money keeping the lights on, which could take away from outreach ministries.

“For our rates to go up, for us having to spend $1,000 extra each month on electricity… it hinders our ability to fill in those gaps that we see in our community,” Slack said.

To help them anticipate the increase, Austin Energy says staff members have met with every house of worship that gets electricity from them, and made recommendations to become more energy efficient.

First Baptist has taken steps to make their building use less energy. The church has installed lights that turn off when someone leaves a room and installed an more efficient air conditioning system.

Overall, Austin Energy staff is proposing a $17 million cut to the utility’s revenue. It includes a proposal to change, and in many cases lower, residential rates. For any customers using less than 500 kilowatt hours per month, it would mean an average increase of $1.43. But for everyone more than 500 kilowatt hours per month (the average home uses 913 kWh), it would mean a decrease. You can see how Austin Energy says it would impact customers at every tier here.

The rate proposal has a long way to go before it become permanent.

In addition to staff recommendations, Austin Energy is working with Herrera & Boyle PLLC to act as an impartial hearing examiner. They have heard from Austin Energy as well as customers about proposed rate changes and will issue their own recommendations regarding rate changes Friday, July 15.

The City of Austin Electric Utility Committee will meet the following Monday, July 18.

After that, the Austin City Council is expected to take up rate changes at the August 8 and August 22 work sessions as well as August 15, and August 25 council meetings before making a final decision on August 29. However, Austin Energy says those dates are subject to change. Any rate increase is expected to take effect in January 2017.

When asked about the proposal, Austin Energy sent us the following statement:

“Continuance of the long-standing house of worship rate is one of many issues the Austin City Council will deal with while deciding on Austin Energy rates. The impartial hearings examiner process has worked well to develop a thorough record on the issue, so the Council will have all the facts when it makes a decision later this summer.

“After the impartial hearings examiner releases his report on July 15, it will go to the Austin City Council,  which has scheduled five meetings to go through the report and make decisions.  Ultimately, it is up to the Council to determine how much money the utility needs to continue its operations and how much the City will charge each class of customer to raise that amount.  Parties that have been part of the process and other customers can make their case directly to decision-makers. This democratic process is the heart of a community-owned utility.”

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