Thursday, June 28, 2012

Customer Assistance -- Utility Bill Discount Program

City of Austin Customer Assistance Program Summit -- June 28, 2012

This program provides electric, water and other utility bill discounts to City of Austin utility customers who are receiving benefits through any of a variety of local, state or federal assistance programs. Eligible programs currently include:

   Medicaid (categories SSI/Aged/Disabled)
   Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program
   Travis County Hospital District Medical Assistance (MAP) program
   Travis County Energy Assistance programs (CEAP or FEMA)
   State paid Medicare part A and B (QMB, SLMB or Q1)

Effective October 1, 2012, participants in additional programs will qualify for utility bill discounts. These programs include:

   Medicaid low income assistance components
   Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program
   Children’s Health Insurance program
   Telephone Lifeline program


Customers will be able to sign up for utility bill discounts by mailing in an application, automatic enrollment through a 3rd party process, or enrollment by Austin Energy staff during outreach events. In the future, enrollment will also be available through the web.


A new component of the utility bill discount program will be education outreach to provide energy saving tips and training to qualifying households. This outreach could include a home visit to assess how energy is used and to determine how the home compares with other comparable homes. This outreach would occur in advance of providing energy efficiency improvements to qualifying homes.

Free Weatherization

Additional funding will be dedicated to the delivery of free home energy efficiency improvements to utility bill discount recipients. The goal is to reduce energy use and enhance comfort through better home efficiency and education.

Community Involvement

Two community groups have been established to assist and provide guidance in shaping and managing City of Austin Customer Assistance programs. First, a Discount Steering Committee of representatives from a diversity of community organizations that provide direct assistance to those in need. This group will make recommendations on assistance program implementation and structure. A Community Advocacy Group of advocacy representatives will assist in policy development and in garnering community support on issues related to vulnerable customers.

Other Customer Assistance Programs

Medically Vulnerable Registry

This program is designed to identify households with customers who either have life-sustaining electrical equipment in use in their residence or are critically or seriously ill.

Registration forms are mailed or faxed directly to the customer’s physician. The form must be signed by both the customer and their physician. Customers who wish to apply should call 494-9400.

Case managers assist these customers. That assistance includes home visits as needed, assistance in developing backup plans in the event of power outages, plus planning for third party notifications. The Registry does not guarantee priority utility service restoration during unplanned outages but seeks to help these customers be prepared with back up plans and other assistance.  

Customers enrolled in the Registry may be eligible for longer payment arrangements or other considerations in managing the utility accounts. However, customers on the Registry are not exempt from financial responsibilities if their account becomes delinquent, nor are they exempt from disconnection of services according to established policies.

Plus 1 Financial Assistance

This program provides emergency utility bill assistance on a one-time basis to City of Austin utility customers on low, moderate or fixed incomes who face unexpected emergencies.

Plus 1 financial assistance is administered through some 20 community partners. This means the customer applies through the community agency that best meets their overall needs. Current partners include:
  • AIDS Services of Austin
  • Any Baby Can
  • Capital Idea
  • David Chapel Baptist Church
  • Foundation Communities
  • Foundation for the Homeless
  • Greater Mt Zion Baptist Church
  • H.A.N.D. (Helping the Aging, Needy & Disabled)
  • Hospice Austin
  • Meals on Wheels and More
  • Sacred Heart Parish
  • SafePlace
  • St. Albert the Great Catholic Church
  • St. Austin Catholic Church
  • St. Louis House
  • St. Louis Catholic Church
  • St. Mary Cathedral
  • Texas VFW Foundation
  • Travis County Family Services
  • University Avenue Christian Church

Fixed Income Project

This program provides customers who have past due balances or old utility debt with payment arrangement assistance. Caritas of Austin assists the program by providing case management and budget management classes for participants.

This program is available to customers with a utility bill balance of between $400-$900 and whose primary income comes from Social Security, SSI, SSDI or VA disability. The Fixed Income Project Hotline is 512-646-1272.

Homeless Utility Project

This program supports customers who are homeless with past due utility debt that creates a barrier to self-sufficiency and stable housing. Caritas of Austin assists with this program by providing case management, housing assistance and budget management classes for participants. Caritas and Austin Energy develop a payment arrangement through which the customer pays off their utility debt over time.

Utility Bill Payment and Collections

City of Austin Customer Assistance Program Summit - June 28, 2012

The City of Austin utility bill payment and collections process is designed to give a customer a number of reminders and opportunities to pay a utility bill and keep their account in good standing.

The amount of time between when a bill is issued and the payment due date has been reduced from 23 days to 17 days. In addition, the number of days between when a bill is issued and the possible disconnection of utility services due to non-payment is being reduced slightly from 46 days to 35 days. These changes conform more closely to industry standards and to best practice guidelines set by the Texas Public Utility Commission.

The City of Austin bill payment and collections process provides substantial opportunity for customers to keep their utility account up to date. Here are the timelines for the Collections process:

Day 1- Bill issuance date                                                                               
Day 17 - Bill payment due date                                  
Day 21 - Delinquent notice sent                                
Day 31 - Delinquent notice bill payment due date
Day 33 - 24-hour notification that services will be disconnected if payment is not received                      Day 35 - Disconnection of utility service if payment is not received                           

Options available for overdue accounts

Customers who fall behind on their utility bill can set up a Payment Arrangement. This allows the customer to break up a large balance due and pay part of that balance each month – along with current monthly charges.

Customers with a good payment history may ask for a one-time extension on a utility bill. Under this option the customer would be simply be given additional time to pay their bill in full.  

Payment convenience

Under Budget Billing a customer pays the same amount each month.  This monthly amount is determined by averaging their utility bill costs for the previous 12-month period. Budget Billing accounts are reviewed every six months to adjust a monthly payment that falls far below or above actual usage. This might occur, for instance, during a summer or winter that is much warmer or colder than normal.

A customer can also take advantage of Auto Pay. This option can be set up by visiting to have your bank account pay your City of Austin utility bill automatically each month on the due date of the bill.

New Electric Rates Take Effect With October 2012 Utility Bills

City of Austin Customer Assistance Program Summit - June 28, 2012

The Austin City Council has unanimously approved a system average 7% rate increase.  The Council will further assess rate adjustment needs in 2014 and will review rates thereafter every five years. This increase in base electric rates is the first since 1994. The Council also reaffirmed that Austin Energy rates must remain in the lower 50% among Texas electric utilities.  

The Council approved a 5-tier inclining rate structure (Energy Charge) for residential customers that provides especially low rates for the first 500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electric use.   

New 5-tier residential base electric rates:

Energy Use
First 500 kWh
1.8 cents per kWh
3.3 cents per kWh
From 501 - 1,000 kWh
5.6 cents per kWh
8.0 cents per kWh
From 1,001 - 1,500 kWh
7.2 cents per kWh
9.1 cents per kWh
From 1,501 - 2,500 kWh
8.4 cents per kWh
11.0 cents per kWh
From 2,501 and above
9.6 cents per kWh
11.4 cents per kWh

The Council also broadened eligibility through which disadvantaged customers can qualify for utility bill assistance. To fund this customer assistance, the Council approved a monthly charge to residential customer $1.74 per 1,000 kWh and 65 cents per megawatt-hour (MWH) for businesses. 

Other key components of the new residential rate structure approved by Council include the following: 

  • A $10 monthly Customer Charge. Currently the Customer Charge is $6.
  • Summer rates will apply during June, July, August and September only. Currently summer rates apply during six months (October-May). This means under the new rates customers will pay lower rates 8 months a year. Summer rates are higher due to the higher cost of meeting summer electric demand. 

Line items that will continue on the electric bill
  • Power Supply Adjustment (currently the Fuel Charge): recovers dollar-for-dollar fuel and power supply costs.
  • Regulatory Charge (includes the current Transmission Service Adjustment Rider):  recovers dollar-for-dollar Austin Energy’s share of state grid management costs and state transmission use and construction costs.

New line item

Some costs currently recovered within base electric rates have been removed from the new base electric rates to be recovered through an individual line item. These services (listed below) benefit customers and the greater community as a whole. These costs will be recovered on the electric bill through a single monthly line item called the Community Benefit Charge.
  • Customer Assistance: $1.72 per 1,000 kWh to fund utility bill discounts for low income customers. This funding should more than double the number of customers that can be assisted annually to 25,000.
  • Service Area Streetlights:  93 cents per 1,000 kWh to maintain and power the streetlights and traffic signals in Austin and all communities served by Austin Energy.
  • Energy Efficiency Services:  $2.89 per 1,000 kWh for energy efficiency programs, the least expensive offset to new generation.

Overall impact of new residential rates and structure

Summer electric bills will increase by less than $10 per month for the smallest users and between $13 and $24 per summer month for average users. Winter electric bills would increase by less than $7 per month for small through average energy users.

Voluntary contributions

City of Austin utility customers have check off options on their utility bill that allow for voluntary contributions to the Customer Assistance (Plus 1) Program that provides emergency utility bill assistance (as opposed to utility bill discounts provided monthly) to customers facing extraordinary emergencies such as loss of job. There is also a check off for community Tree Planting. The Council approved an additional check off box for voluntary contributions to help Independent School Districts with their utility bills.