Friday, July 20, 2012

Statesman Energy Editorial Lacks Analysis

The state legislature should let local government deal with Austin energy rate increases, according to the Austin American-Statesman’s editorial board. Energy customers who live outside of the city’s jurisdiction do not have a voice in deciding how the revenue from energy rates is used. The intended audience of the editorial is Austinites and people in the surrounding areas who could relay their opinions to state politicians and city officials. The Statesman tends to give more leeway to Democrats so it’s no surprise that the ed board supports the views of Sen. Kirk Watson - D and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell - D. The argument boils down to state government leaving local issues alone. The ed board assumes that “the worst path utility customers outside Austin can take it to take their grievance to the Legislature.” However, they do not expand well upon why this would be a bad approach. 
Republican state Rep. Paul Workman’s said he plans to write legislation to transfer the revenue that Austin Energy gets from customers outside of the city. He also said he might write legislation that would let those customers sign up with a different electricity provider. I disagree with the editorial’s stance that increasing utility competition would be a bad approach. In its argument against Workman, the ed board points to the city of San Antonio, which also uses funds it receives from customers outside of the city. The editorial’s argument against state involvement is not thorough enough regarding Workman’s plan. It sounds like the ed board does not have the audiences best interests in mind and is instead preoccupied with holding off state influence no matter what that influence entails. The editorial suggests, but does not endorse, following Watson and Leffingwell’s recommendation to take Austin Energy’s power from the city council and give it to an independent board with representatives for customers outside Austin. I think this could be a good compromise for setting rates, but yet again, not enough information is given about how this approach would really affect those customers and the issue of their revenues being used for city purposes. 
I can understand the desire of working through this local issue on the local government level. However, the editorial did not even consider the implications of Rep. Workman’s legislation or how it could be implemented on the local level without the Legislature. It feels like the ed board wrote this piece from the perspective of Austin versus Texas–David versus Goliath. Energy customers end up being used as the rocks David throws to stave off the giant. But energy issues are more complex than a political power struggle. Or at least they should be. 

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