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Texas Electric Co-op At Forefront Of Customer Engagement

Source: Bluebonnet Electric Co-op

Everywhere you turn these days, you hear someone mention the emergence of big data and how our lives will be more and more reliant on numbers.  Well the world of electric cooperatives (co-ops) is no exception.  Originally emerging out of the establishment of the Rural Electrification Administration, co-ops enabled rural farmers and ranchers to create customer-owned electric utilities in areas that are not serviced by traditional utilities.

I recently visited the Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative (Bluebonnet), one of the Texas’ largest co-ops providing energy to 14 counties, spanning the outskirts of Austin to Houston and boasting an impressive 11,000 miles of electric lines, 83,000 electric meters and 63,000 members.  Who would have thought so much big data is coming out of rural Texas?

What makes this co-op particularly unique is its smart grid, which is attracting some serious attention.

Unlike other traditional utilities, Bluebonnet does not generate any of its own electricity.  Instead, it buys electricity from the Lower Colorado River Authority and CPS Energy, both pioneers for clean, renewable energy.  Because of this, Bluebonnet is able to concentrate its energy (pun intended) on using new technologies to provide reliable power and enhance customer satisfaction. Read More »

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Demand Response: Power For The Grid Starts With The People

This commentary originally appeared on EDF’s Energy Exchange blog.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel entitled, Resource Adequacy & Demand Response: Ensuring Texas’ Future Reliability at the 7th Annual Platts Texas Energy Markets Conference in Houston, TX.  Following fellow panelists, “Trip” Doggett, CEO of ERCOT; Milton L. Holloway, President and COO of the Center for the Commercialization of Electric Technologies; and John W. Fainter, Jr. President and CEO of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, I spoke about EDF’s work with the Pecan Street Research Institute  (Pecan Street) to test and deploy various smart grid consumer products.

One of the many cutting-edge research projects being conducted by Pecan Street is an examination of consumer behavior with regards to energy usage.  Trends in the data show that giving people the ability to control their energy use, and their energy generation, generally results in cost-effective, environmentally-conscious decisions. These shrewd decisions are becoming increasingly important as Texas faces a lack of energy resources to meet the state’s increasing need for more electricity.

With July just around the corner, the summer heat is ramping up in Texas, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is preparing for extreme temperatures to push the electric grid to its limits.  State regulators and ERCOT stakeholders are urgently seeking a solution to the looming Texas Energy Crunch.  The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) has already raised the maximum price in the electricity market a number of times, but this is a band-aid for the problem, not a long-term solution. Read More »

Also posted in Demand Response, ERCOT, Pecan Street, Smart Grid, Texas Energy Crunch / Comments are closed

Austin Energy’s Electric Rates Are Lower Than The Texas Public Policy Foundation Would Have You Believe

(Source: www.inhabitat.com)

This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Energy Exchange Blog by Colin Meehan.

Austin Energy’s Rates: 13% Below the Average Rate in ERCOT’s Competitive Markets – After Accounting for the Proposed 12.5% Rate Increase

Austin Energy has been in the news a lot lately, and most often for some controversy around the ongoing rate review process.  What often gets lost in these heated discussions is that fact that Austin’s heritage of clean energy and innovative approaches to economic development are firmly rooted in our city’s electric utility, and that the utility allows city leaders to keep taxes low.  At the same time, Austin Energy’s leadership often puts it in the crosshairs of groups that are ideologically opposed to clean energy and city owned utilities, and whether supported by facts or not, the opportunity to criticize Austin Energy has proven too difficult to resist.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) is often one of the ringleaders in the crusade against clean energy as well as city owned utilities, and they’re not going to let facts get in the way of scoring an ideological point.  In knocking Austin Energy and promoting their agenda, TPPF cherry picks data and uses coded language like the idea that customers “can choose” rates lower than Austin Energy’s if they are in the competitive regions of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).  The truth is, for a customer in the competitive areas of ERCOT to maintain lower rates than Austin Energy they would have to change electric providers each month, and they’d have to be pretty lucky on top of it.

The problem is that the rates TPPF reference when they say customers can choose lower rates are usually introductory, variable or otherwise subject to increases not included in the rates that customers do choose.  What this means is that customers actually pay more than TPPF’s selective math would suggest, but TPPF seems more concerned with scoring political points than what customers actually pay for their electricity.

Look at the data from a more logical point of view and you will see that competitive regions in ERCOT average higher residential rates than ERCOT’s average rates.  In fact, ERCOT rates are kept low largely by municipal and co-operative utilities like Austin Energy, the customer owned utility model that TPPF criticizes in their latest missive.  The most recent data available for a real analysis of the rates Texans pay was released by the Energy Information Administration just a few months ago, including data through 2010.  As the chart below shows, Austin Energy’s rates are well below the ERCOT average, and even farther below the average competitive market rate, despite TPPF’s claims to the contrary.  

Even if you account for Austin’s proposed 12.5% rate increase, the new rates are 13% below competitive rates in ERCOT. This calculation doesn’t even include the impact of increasing wholesale power rates in ERCOT, which increased about 50% between 2010 and 2011 in the South Zone (Austin Energy’s location in the competitive market).  While it’s too early to tell how the wholesale power price increase has impacted competitive retail rates, it’s clear that Austin Energy’s rates – even after the rate review is completed – will be below the competitive average.

As we talk about rates in our community and across Texas, it’s important to remain focused on factual analysis and avoid misleading assumptions driven more by ideology than a desire for real debate. Unfortunately, arguments like those put forward by TPPF don’t contribute to an honest discourse; they mislead the public, distort reality, and threaten Austinite’s low tax lifestyle.

Also posted in TPPF / Read 1 Response