CBS Austin: Austin Energy's Response to Ice Storm 35_CBS_Austin_Ice_Storm_2023

February 16, 2023 12:00 PM


Power was finally restored in all the neighborhoods after nearly 12 days. It was an ice storm. Mother Nature. Many people thought it was an act of God and nothing could have been done to actually prevent the outages with inches of ice coating the trees and breaking limbs. Turns out that this may not be true. The auditors at dug into the Austin Energy checkbook. Joining us today is the CEO Adam Andrzejewski. What did you find?  
ANSWER: In 2021, the latest year available of the Austin Energy line-by-line checkbook spent less than 1% of its approved budget of $1.5 billion on tree trimming. It was $12.3 million on tree trimming.
Explain further -- as to why it's important to keep the trees trimmed next to power lines. And a low-cost solution versus burying power lines.
Of the amount Austin Energy spent on vendors which was disclosed as $360 million, again, only $12.3 million was spent on tree trimming. That's only 3.4 percent of its dedicated vendor spending — which could have prevented or mitigated outrages after the ice storm.
QUESTION: You have a chart of the tree services contracted by the city. You're calling for a performance audit of these city contractors. Please explain. FY2021 Austin Energy Vendors
ASPLUNDH TREE EXPERT LLC  $       6,999,202.59
Wright Tree Service, Inc  $       3,806,148.54
DAVEY TREE SURGERY CO  $       1,506,968.84
Grand Total  $     12,312,319.97
QUESTION: Put the amount spent on tree trimming in context to other city services.  ANSWER: The city spent more on PR at $13 million per year than Austin Energy did on tree trimming at $12.3 million! City's PR team failed. Austin Energy's tree trimming team failed. Brief recap. Failure of communications and a failure of transparency. City employs 173 communications pros for $13 million per year. Think about that: $26 million last year spent on communications and tree trimming. Both teams failed.  
QUESTION: You've been critical of the city's data as well. Explain.  The city response was also a failure in transparency. The city didn't explain that a 'customer' is a 'meter.' So, when there were 170,000 'customers' without power, it was more like 425,000 PEOPLE. Because there are 2.5 people on average per meter!
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