Spanish Trail leader seeks to secede from city electric co.

October 17, 2012

Dan Francis’ August electric bill from the city was the last straw. The president of the Spanish Trail Property Owners Association now plans to circulate a petition in hopes that some city electric customers will be allowed to unplug from the city and plug in with United Cooperative Services.

Francis said he is hoping a petition will result in a hearing with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). He said he is acting on information provided by a staffer in state Rep. Jim Keffer’s Austin office.

Francis said he has been told that the PUC could grant approval for the shift of about 125 city electric customers in Spanish Trail, south of Granbury. United Cooperative Services currently has a rate of 8.1 cents per kilowatt hour, while the city’s current rate is 12.95 cents per kilowatt hour.

Public Works Director Alva Cox said that the city is not regulated by the PUC, “except for the CCN – the territory.” The acronym stands for “Certificate of Convenience Necessity,” he said. Cox said he is doubtful that the PUC will take the action that Francis is hoping for.

“He (Francis) would have to find somebody that wants to buy the system,” Cox said, referring to the older section of the Spanish Trail subdivision that falls under the city’s utilities domain. “I just don’t see the PUC saying, okay, we’re going to give this to United Co-op. The city has put in all that infrastructure, all the transformers and all that. I’ve never seen them revoke a CCN.”

Francis said it is his understanding that he needs the signatures of only 5 percent of the city customers in that area, which would not amount to a large number.

Francis said he began researching possible ways of getting out from under the city’s electric rates when he received his electric bill for August in early September. Despite the fact that he had been out of town for a week during August and the air conditioner was turned off during that time, his bill, he said, was the exact amount and the exact number of kilowatt hours as the bill for July.

Francis said that after he notified the city that something must be amiss with the meter, a city staffer told him that the meter’s reading was correct.

However, Francis said that when he continued to press the issue, the city staffer informed him that he would be credited $46. He said he was told that the credit was based on what he had paid for the month of June.

Francis said the credit did not alleviate his concern about the city’s meters and billing method, so he set about trying to find a way to disengage from city utilities.

Mauri Montgomery, a spokesman for United Cooperative Services, said that the company has been approached regarding “a territory realignment” for the Spanish Trails area.

“While United Cooperative Services welcomes the opportunity to offer service to anyone residing within its service territory, as designated by the Public Utility Commission, the Cooperative would not make any such consideration unless it was in the best interest of its existing membership to do so,” Montgomery’s email stated.

According to United Cooperative Service’s most recent “Rate Watch” chart, United’s rates are the lowest in a comparison of 33 electric providers. The city of Granbury’s is the highest.

Francis said he also hopes to undo a water surcharge that Spanish Trails residents have been paying to the city for about the past 40 years. He said that, while little seems to be known about the roots of the added fee, some have said it goes back to an agreement struck between the developer and a former mayor.

However, Cox said that water customers who live outside the city limits have been paying a 50 percent surcharge for a number of years per city ordinance. He said the higher fee affects other developments as well.

Cox said that a proposed plan by City Manager Wayne McKethan that would involve lowering electric rates but increasing water rates for those who use the most water could provide relief for the majority of customers. That plan, however, has not yet been approved by the City Council.

[email protected]|817-573-7066, ext. 258

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