Next time you open up your Atmos Energy bill your rates will be higher. On Tuesday the Texas Rail Road Commission approved the rate increase to help pay for capital improvements. Some City Council members are worried the rate hike could raise the average household bill by 24%, but Atmos representatives say the impact will not be that harsh.
Marinda Heinrich with Atmos says the average customer's base rate will jump from about $8 to $13.50, but she also says the usage rate will be lowered. "During the summer customers will see their bills increase because of the base rate, but during the winter the bills will start to level out because you are paying less for how much you use," Heinrich said.
Lubbock City Council members like Jim Gerlt are angry the rates were raised against the city's unanimous vote in June not to increase rates. The ultimate decision is left to the Texas Rail Road Commission, and Atmos appealed the city's vote against the hike. On Tuesday the Commission approved the $6 million dollar increase, but at the heart of the issue is the Commission's approval to consolidate the Lubbock Division, the Amarillo Division and the West Texas Group Division that includes all other cities like Midland and Odessa.
Before now all three areas set their own rates, but they will now all be lumped together with a single base rate now set at $13.50.
"They're trying to put us all together and one size does not fit all," Gerlt said. "We had a stack of documents we put together - evidence from witnesses saying there's no way to justify what's taking place. They didn't pay a bit of attention to that."
"The whole thing it comes down to is the Rail Road Commission dropped the ball. In a monopoly there has to be someone who helps control things," Gerlt added.
Breaking down the $6 million dollars in increases, Atmos says $2.51 million of that will be collected by Lubbock customers, $3.50 million will come from Amarillo while customers in the West Texas Group division won't see a change.
"Robin Hood is moving into public utilities. We don't think it's right. If people want to live in these other smaller cities, great that's their choice, but the citizens of Lubbock shouldn't have to pay for their choice to live in a smaller city where it's more expensive for gas," Gerlt said.
Gerlt is angry with the Rail Road Commission's decision, and while they can't undo the rate hike he says they can fight the consolidation of the three divisions. He says the council will discuss appealing the Commission's approval. If they decided to do so it will go to a district court.
"We're trying to draw a line in the sand to protect citizens of Lubbock. If we can't stop them now I don't know where it will go," Gerlt said. "Call the Rail Road Commission, and flood their switch board. Tell them we don't like it, we are angry about this and they need to represent us."
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