Austin Energy is undergoing a broad array of changes, from its new leader, new generation plan, and possibly a new business model. These changes highlight the need for increased transparency.
Transparency – How Much is Right for Austin?
The City of Austin values an informed citizenry but over the past three decades has seen significant changes in the level of transparency of the community owned utility. A state law passed in 1999 gave authority to Austin’s City Council to decide what information — if any — to keep confidential from the public. Austin’s “Competitive Matters” Resolution was adopted in 2001 and updated 2005.
Changes to Austin Energy’s practices on information disclosed to the public can come from:
1) Austin Energy can change its internal policies for information disclosure (AE sometimes does share items on their confidential list, as City Council has delegated to AE staff the responsibility to determine specifics of what to share with the public and what to keep confidential);
2) Austin City Council can change the “Competitive Matters” Resolution;
3) The Texas Legislature can change the enabling statute granting city’s extra confidentiality authority; and
4) The federal government can change requirements for information that municipal utilities must report nationally.
Pat Wood on Transparency of Muni Utilities
Former chief U.S. energy regulator Pat Wood III — a former Austin Energy customer — shares perspectives about transparency issues important to Austin.
Should Austin Energy increase Transparency?
The purpose of Austin’s “Competitive Matters” Resolution is to limit disclosure of Austin Energy’s information “to competitors”, but the American Public Power Association says that competitors “already know” this information.
Data Confidential in Austin is Available Elsewhere
Numerous examples show information treated as confidential in Austin are typically available for regulated electric utilities in the U.S. Electric Industry Information.
Austin Energy Annual Report – Key Questions:
Are Austin’s electric charges currently too high?
Austin Energy appears to have over-collected more than $30 million during 2009. Given the current economic situation, can Austin lower its fuel charges for 2010 or consider refunding any over-collection? Annual Report discussion.
Fuel Hedging: Costs What?
Fuel hedging, with apparent extra costs that may approach $100 million in 2009, begs a thorough public explanation, but it is regarded as a confidential “competitive matter”. Annual Report discussion.