Texas town electric rates up 32% in one month

The attached news story, quoted from the Fort Worth Star Telegram, is an example of what is happening, and more of these type of events are on the way. This is a story you need to see.

Weatherford residents angry over rise in electric rates By AMAN BATHEJA (abatheja@star-telegram.com)

WEATHERFORD — City officials faced stinging criticism Friday in response to skyrocketing local utility prices, prompting some Weatherford residents to call for key public officials to be suspended or recalled.

More than 150 people showed up for the normally sparsely attended Weatherford Municipal Utility Board meeting to complain about rates jumping to 19.9 cents per kilowatt hour, a more than 32 percent increase in the last month, according to city officials.

Weatherford, one of a small number of Texas cities with municipally owned utilities, has enjoyed some of the lowest electric rates in the state in recent years, bypassing the increases other Texas cities have experienced since the electricity market was deregulated, in 2002. The dramatic swing in electric rates this month shocked many city residents.

"If you look at our record, these last two months are an anomaly," said Sharon Hayes, Weatherford director of utilities.

Residents at the meeting blamed city officials for negotiating a new contract with private power wholesaler American Electric Power in May to get more of its electricity from natural gas. City officials said they made the change because costs for their old contract were increasing because of the rising costs of transporting energy from a coal-based plant in Vernon, near Wichita Falls.

Under the old contract, electric rates would likely be as high as they are now or even higher, said Ronnie Warren, chairman of Weatherford's municipal utility board.

City officials promised to try to quickly address the situation. A handful of residents threatened a recall election of the entire City Council.

Speakers who called for various dismissals received standing ovations from the crowd.Resident Jerry Clinton called the situation a "disaster" and accused City Manager Jennifer Fadden of causing it.

State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, filed a statement with the board urging it to consider an option it has long opposed: opting into Texas' deregulated market.

"I believe the market has changed and that competition now offers lower prices for Weatherford residents," King said. "Should you decide to take this path, I will do my best to ensure that the Public Utility Commission and ERCOT work to expedite the transition of Weatherford into competition."

City officials did not rule it out, though they described such a shift as complicated, expensive and irreversible.

"We are looking at all options," Hayes said.

Weatherford has one of 72 publicly run utilities in Texas, according to Mark Zion, executive director of the Texas Public Power Association. Zion said he was not aware of any other public utility experiencing such a rise in rates.

"Weatherford is in a unique position," Zion said, explaining that the city's contract with the private wholesaler makes it the only municipally owned utility in the state that does not either have its own power plant or buy its power from another public power company.

Weatherford's rates (Per kilowatt hour)

Lowest current rates in deregulated market

Sources: Weatherford Municipal Utility Board, powertochoose.org

Aman Batheja, 817-390-7695