The Austin Chronicle

What You're Paying For

By Nora Ankrum, August 21, 2009, News

This graph compares the charges paid by a typical GreenChoice customer for Batch 6 to those paid by a nonsubscriber to GreenChoice. (Note: Businesses that rank as large power users pay an additional demand charge.) There are three line items on a bill – two (the customer charge and energy charge) are the same for all customers, while only nonsubscribers pay the fuel charge and only GreenChoice customers pay the GreenChoice charge, a direct replacement of the fuel charge.

Energy Charge Breakdown

49% Operations and maintenance: includes operating and staff costs, materials and supplies, and contractual services such as billing services and tree-trimming

23% Debt service: includes interest and principal payments on debt for power plants, electric system improvements and expansion, and chilled water plants

16% Capital costs: cash paid out for capital improvement projects related to power plants, electric system improvements and expansion (also funded by debt service), equipment, and vehicles

11% General Fund transfer to city of Austin budget

The Argument

Energy consultant Mike Sloan argues that GreenChoicers should only pay a portion of the energy charge, but Austin Energy spokesman Ed Clark disagrees: "They use all of the power plants just like everybody else," he says. "During a hot summer afternoon, very little of the wind is coming in – that's not when it comes in. So they're using the nuke; they're using the coal; they're using the natural gas. ... And if you have a power outage, which you're gonna have if there's a bad storm, our crews are gonna get in their truck and come to your neighborhood and fix it, and they're in that energy charge, too."

GreenChoicers also use some of the fuel, he says, which they don't pay for since they don't pay the fuel charge; by the same token, counters Sloan, whenever more wind is blowing than GreenChoicers happen to be using, those extra kilowatts are going to non-GreenChoice customers. Regardless, says Clark, it would be a difficult task to try to figure out an apportionment that would please everyone.

When asked if GreenChoicers pay too much, even veteran environmentalist and city watchdog Paul Robbins – never known to back down from a fight over minutiae – sums it up thus: "One can make that argument and one can refute it with equal accuracy."

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