Austin City Council of Texas debates deregulation of utility Austin Energy

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Austin Council Member Don Zimmerman has expressed support for providing customers at utility Austin Energy with the ability to choose their electricity provider, the Austin Monitor reports.

Austin Monitor
Contact: Tyler Whitson

When it comes to Austin Energy, there is one word that always stirs up debate. That word is “deregulation.”

City Council held a policy workshop with Austin Energy management, stakeholders and policy advocates Monday on the myriad issues associated with the public utility. The conversation touched several times on the merits of Austin Energy’s current status versus what it would look like if the city opted to deregulate it.

Council Member Don Zimmerman was the only speaker on his side of the dais who advocated for the change, while the rest either spoke in favor of Austin Energy’s public ownership or steered clear of the topic altogether. The majority of the other speakers who commented said the utility should remain public, though some advocated for a new type of oversight system.

Zimmerman expressed doubts that he or the rest of Council would be able to gain the expertise needed to make informed policy decisions about Austin Energy. “It’s so complicated, it could be a full-time job by itself,” he said. “I would love to get this offloaded from the Council and give consumer choice. Let them choose what energy company they would like.”

Council Member Leslie Pool countered that public ownership helps to ensure accountability and transparency in the many decisions the utility makes.

“I maintain that it is entirely appropriate and civically responsible for the city to maintain control over Austin Energy,” Pool said. “Government doesn’t choose its customers. We serve everybody, and if this were to go to a private entity, that might not always be the case.”

University of Texas Energy Institute Research Fellow Roger Duncan said that he has advocated in the past for Austin Energy to have a publicly elected, independent board of directors. The previous Council started looking into creating an independent governing board in 2013, but ultimately did not make the shift.

“I think Austin Energy should remain a public utility,” said Duncan, who was formerly a Council member and Austin Energy general manager. “The daily management of that is too complicated for the current management structures.”

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