How one man got Austin Energy to reform its discounts to low-income customers
Jack Craver, Reporter, Energy Industry, Energy Central March 21, 2018
Paul Robbins has been a thorn in the side of Austin Energy for decades. The longtime environmentalist and consumer advocate comes to City Council meetings regularly to bemoan bad decisions by the municipally-owned utility.
One of his most prominent crusades has been against wasted money in the utility’s Consumer Assistance Program, which is supposed to offer discounts to low-income ratepayers. Robbins, however, has long contended that many of the program’s beneficiaries aren’t low-income at all. He has done this by highlighting expensive homes –– some exceeding $1 million –– that are enlisted in the program.
In presentations to City Council, Robbins displayed photos of the magnificent homes that some of the program beneficiaries live in.
This story is about misspending of public funds meant for energy efficiency. If environmentalists do not advocate spending this money wisely, the public will lose trust in us.
Council rejects appeal of gas conservation fees Wednesday, February 7, 2018 by Jo Clifton, The Austin Monitor
City Council on Thursday rejected an appeal from environmental and consumer activist Paul Robbins to overturn a staff decision to accept Texas Gas Service’s 2018 conservation adjustment clause rate. The conservation adjustment clause rate is the extra money consumers pay for the utility to fund its conservation programs, such as rebates for appliances and attic insulation.
…In addition to Troxclair, Council members Jimmy Flannigan and Ann Kitchen and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo seemed interested in following up on the questions Robbins raised in his appeal.
Flannigan thanked Robbins. “You know, sometimes – I’m going to say this with love because I’ve been described this way too. Sometimes a passionate nutjob is what you need. And I’ve been that guy from time to time myself, and so thank you for sticking with it and hopefully we’ll have a more substantive conversation next year.”
Photo by Lisafern (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Paul Robbins is an Austin-based environmental activist and consumer advocate. Though best known for his work on the Austin Environmental Directory (a sourcebook of green products, services, organizations, and issues in Central Texas), he has worked on a number of other projects as well. This Web site has started to compile them.
Public Notice: Other People’s Money Actually, it’s yours. Do you know where it’s going? NICK BARBARO, FRI., AUG. 4, 2017, The Austin Chronicle
Last week I wrote about The Austin Environmental Directory 2017-18, a ninth-edition resource recently released by utility and consumer watchdog Paul Robbins. This week Robbins is at it again, releasing another long-awaited follow-up report, titled Misguided Charity, charging that money from Austin Energy’s Customer Assistance Program (CAP) – those voluntary contributions that utility customers can make to defray costs for the needy, (*but also a percentage of every utility bill you pay) – is in some cases going instead to wealthy property owners, and to subsidize wasteful consumption.
In this new report, Robbins makes two major policy recommendations: First, that the program should “verify that customers who live in properties with high improvement values really do have low incomes. Council unanimously budgeted money for this in August of 2016 … This could be enacted in a matter of weeks.” Second, and perhaps even easier, would be for AE to eliminate the CAP discount for high-volume electricity users – specifically the fourth and fifth tiers of consumption. “This is just wrong!” Robbins said in a separate email. “The practice encourages waste, while at the same time depriving the average CAP participant of additional discount money.” He estimates this move alone could save the utility some $2 million a year, enough to “increase the average electric discount of $250 a year by about $60.”
Appendices include a “Parade of Homes” – photos and stats on luxury homes that were receiving the CAP discounts as of this January – plus a list of some 56 “CAP Customers With More Than $1 Million in Real Estate Assets.” The report is being distributed to Council and others today, Aug. 3, and will soon be available for download at www.environmentaldirectory.info.
Some high-dollar homes still benefiting from Austin Energy utility discount Updated: Aug 03, 2017 02:30 PM CDT, Kylie McGivern, KXAN News
AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Austin Energy customers rack up those high energy costs this hot summer, they’re helping foot the bill for the city’s low-income utility discount. But KXAN discovered that the $16 million fund is also benefiting million-dollar homes.
It’s a problem KXAN first revealed back in 2014, after which, Austin Energy promised to fix the system meant for the people who need it most. KXAN asked what’s taking the utility so long to right this wrong.
For the past three years, KXAN has followed Paul Robbins’ work. In that time, the consumer advocate has spent countless hours trying to fix the Customer Assistance Program (CAP), what he calls a “broken program.”
Public Notice: Dealing With a Surplus BY NICK BARBARO, FRI., JULY 28, 2017, The Austin Chronicle
A different type of surplus lies at the heart of The Austin Environmental Directory 2017-18, Paul Robbins‘ massive, sprawling labor of love, released last week in its ninth edition since 1995. Robbins has won multiple Chronicle “Best of Austin” Awards – both readers’ and critics’ – for his environmental and consumer activism over the years, and in this edition he lays out an extended, somewhat fragmented article “on how to create an electric grid based completely on clean energy.”
Calling for “strategy, not stridency” in the long-term shift to a truly renewable energy grid, Robbins warns against quick-fix solutions and “impractical dreams,” and centers much of his argument around the challenges posed by the intermittent nature of renewable energy (especially solar and wind), and hence the currently enormous cost of storing and transmitting that theoretically abundant energy. In the end, he sees some positive routes toward the goal, primarily in efficiencies among consumers and utilities, and in new technologies creating a smarter grid and more ways to store and dispatch energy.
There’s also a deep analysis of Austin Energy‘s proposed new gas plant, plus of course, a ton of useful local directory info and tips on food, water, energy, green building, watershed protection, networking, and so much more. The Directory is available at Half Price Books, Central Market North, Wheatsville, and online at www.environmentaldirectory.info.
Environmental directory includes so much more Thursday, July 13, 2017 by Jo Clifton, The Austin Monitor
The Austin Environmental Directory 2017-18 is on its way to 15,000 Austin households. This is the ninth iteration of the directory, which serves as a primer on a wide range of topics, including watershed protection, challenges to clean energy, natural gas and the environment, and the Austin Community Climate Plan. And it’s free to the public.
The book’s editor, Austin environmentalist and researcher Paul Robbins, has dedicated the last three years to working on a wide range of topics explored in the directory. In addition, he engaged a number of other experts and environmentalists to write about food and the environment, clean energy, green building and recycling. Numerous businesses, agencies and nonprofits have supported the publication through advertising.
The introduction to the book explains that the Austin Environmental Directory “is meant as a user-friendly guide to readers for learning about environmental issues, for identifying and purchasing environmental products, and for becoming involved in environmental organizations.”
City Council nixes Austin Energy’s base rate hike, approves new rates
By Nolan Hicks – American-Statesman Staff
Posted: 3:17 p.m. Monday, Aug. 29, 2016
The Austin City Council unanimously approved Austin Energy’s bid to redo its residential electric rates Monday, after the city-owned utility dropped its controversial proposal to increase its base electric rate….
The base rate fight quickly became a battle over who would ultimately pick up the tab: millionaires living in energy-efficient downtown condos or poor families who don’t use much electricity simply because they can’t afford it.
… a review of yearly data from Austin Energy by local activist Paul Robbins found that on average — over 12 months — lower income meant lower energy use.