AUSTIN (KXAN) — Your Austin Energy bill goes up Tuesday after Austin City Council approved a pass-through rate increase for average customers of roughly $15 a month. That rate covers the cost of buying and transporting energy.
The same day the pass-through rate went into effect, Austin City Council sat down with Austin Energy leaders to go over the proposed base rate increase, as is required by the city every five years. That proposal asks council to approve another $15 increase for customers, this one at a set rate.
“We see higher infrastructure costs, we see bigger growth within the city of Austin and it’s important that the utility can keep pace with that and the cost of providing electricity to our customers,” said Matt Mitchell, a spokesperson for Austin Energy. The base rate is used for fixed costs, such as employees and equipment.
Austin City Council members talked about switching up the current tier-model, which Austin Mayor Steve Adler expressed might be hurting customers with the least means of paying their bills. People who can afford newer homes and energy-saving gadgets can cut usage almost in half compared to homes made just a decade prior, Austin Energy showed in its presentation Tuesday.
Austin Energy worked with an independent examiner to look at the rate increase. That examiner did express concern about rate shock for residential customers who did not qualify for the city’s customer assistance program.
“Presently we have about 35,000 customers that are a part of that program. The CAP customers do not pay the customer charge so a $10 a month to $25 a month increase as proposed would not effect our most vulnerable customers,” Mitchell said.
Customers like Bill Oakley said their bills during this summer’s triple-digit heat were already difficult to pocket. Oakley said his mid-summer bill was “one of the highest ones” he’s ever had.
It’s not just Austin having this nuanced discussion though, the need for utility help is going up statewide and margins for energy companies are growing increasingly thin.
Just a few weeks ago, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs added utility assistance to it’s Homeowner Assistance Fund.
“We knew it was a need. We had some really high bills over the summer with folks, high temperatures, energy prices have been up, as have all prices have been up,” said Bobby Wilkinson, executive director of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
City council is in the beginning stages of the approval process for the base rate process. The next council work session is November 29. The public hearing and vote for the rate is December 1 and you would see the impacts starting the start of the new year.