City Wants to Put Off Oncor's Requested 16.5 Percent Rate Hike As Long As Possible

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On January 7, Oncor filed with the Public Utility Commission a rate-hike request: It wants to jump your electricity bill by around $5 a month. Said Chief Operating Officer Charles Jenkins: So sorry, but we have no choice! "The proposed new rates reflect both the investments we've made and the cost controls we've put in place," he explained in a statement, "including recently refinancing a portion of our debt at lower interest rates and passing those savings on to customers." And that tree-trimming program's expensive. Though Oncor was just given the OK to increase rates by around $3 in 2009, this latest request wasn't unexpected: Oncor had warned it was coming in October. Only, it didn't say how high it would ask consumers to jump.

When Oncor finally submitted the figure to the PUC earlier this month, it came as quite the what-the-what. Thomas Brocato, an Austin attorney who specializes in making cities' cases before regulatory boards whenever energy providers ask for more, told The News the 16.5-percent increase was "really surprising given the very favorable outcome they had in their last case."

According to a city council briefing posted last night, Oncor wants the rates to take effect February 14 -- Happy Valentine's Day to you too. But at its Wednesday meeting, the council will more than likely vote to suspend the rate request for 90 days while the Oncor Cities Steering Committee -- which consists of 147 cities served by Oncor -- reviews the request. Says the briefing and the council's meeting addendum, also posted last night, the steering committee has already hired legal council and consultants to "prepare a common response and to negotiate with the Company and direct any necessary litigation."

Which didn't do anyone much good during the last round of rate hikes: Once the PUC allowed Oncor to increase rates, the best the steering committee could muster was a press release expressing its disappointment. As Elizabeth Souder noted earlier this month, yes, attorneys are still appealing the '09 hike -- and that fight could last another year. And: "Customers pay for the legal wrangling."

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