Austin Energy wants an electric power rate hike

Michael Giberson

Deep in the heart of the competitive wholesale and retail electric power market that is (the ERCOT system in) Texas lies a little island of small-scale socialism: the municipal electric utility called Austin Energy. While power prices are dropping all around the state due to low natural gas prices, in the Texas state capital Austin Energy is seeking a rate increase.*

Austin has long been a bit out of step with the rest of the state, so this could serve as just another opportunity for “real Texans” to poke fun at the aging hippies that have taken control of the capital’s city government.

Instead, however, you should read Martin Toohey’s excellent article in the Austin American-Statesman, “As natural gas prices dip, Austin Energy rates still to increase.” For many years the city utility has pursued a policy of fuel-source diversification. As the article explains, it is easier to see the value of a diversification plan when natural gas prices spike, and harder to see the value when natural gas prices drop sharply.

*Note that the link goes to a live (i.e. periodically updated) price chart which shows the average prices of one-year fixed rate prices in the Houston area. Similar price effects are present elsewhere in the state. Currently the price chart shows a drop from just over 10 cents/kwh during most of 2011 to about 9.5 cents/kwh in April 2012.