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AARP lauds Austin for moving to prevent electric disconnections

AUSTIN, TX – AARP Texas today commended the City of Austin for acting expeditiously to protect vulnerable electric customers -- many of whom are elderly and on fixed incomes -- from having their electricity turned off during record-breaking summer temperatures.

"In this matter of protecting the health and welfare of its citizens, the City has shown that where there’s a will there’s a way," said Bob Jackson, AARP Texas state director. "Both Austin Energy and the City Council are to be commended for acting speedily to put a protection plan in place."

The City of Austin will offer a one-time, 6-month term option to allow customers having difficulties paying their bills to pay one-quarter of their outstanding bills and spread the remaining balance over six equal installments. According to the City, energy usage for an average Austin single family home can vary widely from 887 kilowatt-hours in March and April (about $88) to 2,157 kilowatt-hours in July ($235). July was the hottest month for Austin on record and August is shaping up to continue the assault on the record books.

Municipal utilities such as Austin’s were not required to join deregulation under a bill passed by the Texas Legislature in 1999. "Deregulation hasn’t been too kind to other areas of the state," Jackson added. "Citizens there not only pay higher electricity bills on average but inaction by the state Public Utility Commission has left millions of Texans to rely on voluntary programs by electric companies for protections such as this. So far, it has been a tricky proposition."

For example, on August 13, the Public Utility Commission (PUC) denied a petition filed by AARP and Rep. Sylvester Turner that would have required the disclosure of available discounts for low-income households in monthly electric bills and temporarily prohibited cancellation fees charged to customers who seek to switch to new providers with lower rates. While the PUC is expected to take up the issue in the fall as a possible permanent rule, thousand of families in deregulated areas around the state have been put at risk by the heat emergency we are experiencing now.

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