Lockhart City Council to address electric bill concerns
By Kristen Meriwether, Editor LPR
The City of Lockhart announced it would be following the Texas Public Utility Commissions (PUC) guidelines and immediately suspended disconnections for non-payment of electric bills until further notice.
The move, which was announced at Tuesday’s Lockhart City Council meeting, was not required by the PUC of the municipal owned utility, but City Manager Steven Lewis said they have traditionally followed PUC guidelines and would do so in this instance.
After reports of $16,000 electric bills from last week’s winter storm began circulating in mainstream media, every resident in Lockhart began to wonder, will my electric bill be like that? The short answer: probably not.
The folks highlighted in the national stories were customers whose bill is determined by market rate, which skyrocketed with historically high demand during the cold snap. The City of Lockhart doesn’t work like that. It has a contract with two wholesale electric providers, LCRA and AEP, which gives the city a set price for kilowatt per hour (Kw/H).
The City does get charged more for part of their bill when the wholesalers demand exceeds supply. This happens in the dogdays of summer, and it did last week. Normally market rate isn’t at historic rates, so the city is having to prepare for a larger bill from their providers.
Lockhart had their engineering firm do an analysis of how much that portion of the bill is expected to cost. The firm came back with an estimate of $480,000. Normally that bills is $90,000-$120,000.
The City is not, however, expected to pass that along to residents. The City of Lockhart has a mitigation fund, something unusual for a city of this size. Every resident chips in a small amount on their monthly bill to help offset costs during extrema weather events. The fund has $1.7 million to date, which should be more than enough to cover the expected bill.
The City Council discussed creating an ordinance that would allow the City to use $500,000, or the actual cost of the bill, whichever is lower, to keep the Kw/H cost normal for residents. It will be voted on at the March 2 City Council meeting. As with every City Council meeting, the public is invited to speak on the matter before council votes.
Whatever move is made by Council next week will only keep the Kw/H rate normal. It will not, however, change usage on your bill. If you were blessed to keep power on the entire time and your furnace ran for hours on end, you could see a higher bill due to high usage.
The electric bills for this event are not expected to be in customer mailboxes until March. There was no discussion at Tuesday’s City Council about potential assistance needed for customers who ended up with high bills due to high usage, but it could be brought up at future Council meetings.
The City Council also discussed potentially high water bills due to people dripping their faucets for days on end in an attempt to keep their pipes from bursting. Lockhart does not have a mitigation fund for water like they do with electricity, so using money from a fund will not be an option.
They city does, however, have a leak policy for broken pipes. Residents are usually able to use that once per 12-month period. The City Council discussed giving residents the option of being able to use that more than once per 12-month period due to the extreme nature of this event.
The Council Members discussed using last month’s or last year’s February usage to calculate the bill. A final motion will be made at the March 2 City Council meeting. The public is invited to issue comment on the matter.