In fact, according to a filing Austin Energy made with the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board on March 8, the utility should end up in a positive financial position. According to the filing, Austin Energy accumulated a revenue of $54 million, although that final number is uncertain, according to the document, and could vary from $16 million to $104 million.
Through a mechanism called the Power Supply Adjustment, Austin Energy's rates—which are approved by City Council—account for revenues or losses that come from the utility both selling power it produces to the grid or purchasing electricity from the grid. That means that the revenue Austin Energy took in during the winter storm would benefit customers later.
"As it stands ... the way we responded and the way our units were requested to respond and the price signals that were given, there would be a benefit to Austin Energy customers," Austin Energy General Manager Jacqueline Sargent told the city's electric utility and resource management commissions March 8.
However, the calculations are complicated by a complex financial picture at the state level. While some utilities, such as Austin Energy, are in a strong financial position, others were decimated by skyrocketing energy prices in the wake of the storm. Waco-based Brazos Electric Power Cooperative's debts were so steep it had to file for bankruptcy, and the city of Georgetown had to issue $47.8 million in debt in order to cover its losses.
Those heavy financial hits could cause the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to come up short on invoices to Austin Energy, according to the filing, and the possibility remains that ERCOT could try to assign defaulted amounts to Austin Energy and others.
"There are so many moving parts; we need to understand where that's going," Sargent said at the March 8 meeting.
On March 9, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called on ERCOT and the Texas Public Utilities Commission to correct a $16 billion error that led energy prices to rise further than they should have, which, Patrick said in a statement, "will require an adjustment."
The bill filing deadline for the 87th Texas legislative session is March 12. One bill, filed by Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, would ban variable-rate products such as Griddy for residential customers.
While Austin Energy customers were protected from rate swings during the storm, customers on these variable-rate plans were subject to the spikes in cost and on the hook for energy bills in the thousands of dollars.