Simply put, the City is buying more power than it currently needs.
Over the past few years, the energy market in Texas has also experienced a fundamental change. Forecasts provided by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the State’s energy grid operator, have proven to be unreliable. What were perceived as anomalies in 2016 and 2017, such as reduced consumption, unpredictable pricing, and unusually cold weather, masked the true impact of a depressed global energy market. The effect of depressed energy prices became abundantly obvious in 2018.
At the same time, the utility is seeing a drop in consumer demand which is largely driven by conservation efforts, energy-saving technologies, and more energy-efficient new construction. Due to these two factors, the City ended the 2018 fiscal year with a $6.84 million shortfall in the electric fund, leaving a fund balance of $1.97 million.
In 2016, 2017, and 2018, the City addressed these ongoing challenges with one-time solutions, including adjusting how the City financed electric infrastructure projects, such as cash versus debt financing, adjusting the timing of projects, increasing the PCA on electric bills, and completing a rate study. All these efforts were intended to resolve what was previously perceived as one-time problems.
Suffice it to say, the City’s strategy to mitigate fluctuating costs associated with purchasing energy has not worked. The focus on ensuring adequate energy supply and mitigating high-prices overshadowed the short-term consequences of having a surplus of energy in a depressed market. The City did not mitigate the risks associated with clearing energy at low prices.
What we are doing now
1. Addressing the increased costs for purchasing power
The City is working through several approaches to address this issue. All of these steps will be explored to address the electric fund’s current financial position.
The City is working to renegotiate the two long-term power contracts to extend the life of the contracts in exchange for lower costs for the next few years and allow the utility to grow into the higher supply costs as the population grows. The City is also considering selling a portion of the excess energy to a third-party, and identifying ways to better manage the energy portfolio day-to-day.
The City has reduced expenses in the electric department. This includes not issuing any new debt for capital projects, halting current projects, lowering the annual return on investment, or ROI, payment to the City’s general fund, a temporary hiring freeze, and limiting noncritical expenditures. These one-time adjustments were addressed in the current budget and will be considered in future budget discussions.
The power cost adjustment, or PCA, charge will continue through September. This is the charge which allows the City to recover costs associated with purchasing power. The PCA compensates for fluctuations in purchased power cost. The PCA is one tool to ensure the solvency of the electric fund should renegotiating the energy contracts take longer than expected. The City has increased and decreased the PCA several times over the years in response to changing energy prices.
2. Making one-time adjustments to the current budget
The City amended the following revenues related to the electric fund budget for the 2019 fiscal year that began Oct. 1, 2018: recognized the full year impact of continuing the PCA, reduced bond proceeds to zero, and recognized a portion of the proceeds from the Bloomberg Grant.
The City amended the following expenses related to the electric fund budget to save about $2.3 million: reduced the transfer to General Fund by $1.2 million, reduced salary and benefits related to three vacant positions (an analyst, an engineering supervisor, and a journeyman electrician) for a savings of $316,488, deferred the purchase of a pressure digger vehicle for a savings of $434,050, eliminated the $60,000 transfer to the Main Street Façade Fund for the holiday lights, deferred $222,000 worth of radio replacements, and saved $156,000 for deferring the issuance of bonds. The total capital improvement project budget was also reduced to $4 million from $7.9 million.
3. Adjusting electric rates
The monthly charge customers pay increased by $4.80 starting Jan. 1 to cover costs associated with operating the electric department. The monthly charge increase included in the 2019 budget is to help cover costs associated with maintaining and growing the electric system in Georgetown. These costs include large projects like providing power to new subdivisions, burying overhead electric lines, and upgrading aging infrastructure.
The rate change also includes consolidating the State’s transmission charge, or TCOS, with the current energy charge.
Beginning Feb. 1, the City is also increasing the Power Cost Adjustment, or PCA.
Customers will incur an increase of $0.0135 per kilowatt hour, resulting in a new PCA of $0.0175 per kilowatt hour through September. The average customer uses 949 kilowatt hours per month and will experience a $12.82 increase on their monthly bill.