The Austin City Council will hold another public hearing on Austin Energy’s proposed rate increases this Thursday. If it’s anything like the last hearing, expect dozens and dozens of citizens to speak in protest of the proposal.
But with opinion divided on how best to proceed, and the policy debate arguably mutating into a political issue as campaign season begins, it’s uncertain exactly when the increases will be settled. And as council members are inching toward a solution, so far it’s been on separate paths.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell was the first to prominently, publicly address electricity rate hikes outside of council chambers. In a blog post, he gave five reasons he opposed the increase as drafted. He also offered some suggestions on how to improve the proposal. He suggested phasing in the increases -- including a base amount of power in the controversial based changes the utility’s proposed (which would increase from $6 to $22) -- and applauding “time-of-use’ billing that would charge more during peak system times.
Council member Bill Spelman went further late last week, releasing a thorough “starting point” for discussion of rate increases. One of Spelman’s most notable proposals is to reduce the $22 in base fees to $15, and have that amount include 250 kilowatt hours of electricity. He also wants to waive those base fees for low income customers.