An Open Letter to Austin Energy

August 5, 2006

August 5, 2006
Ed Clark, Director Public Information
Austin Energy
721 Barton Springs Rd.
Austin, TX 78704-1186
Via Certified Mail
An Open Letter to Austin Energy
Dear Mr. Clark:

I have just moved to Austin (in order to attend the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest).  I was so pleased to establish my energy service with Austin Energy.  The number of programs dedicated to environmental protection and green energy was amazing.  It showed me that Austin Energy is listening to its customers, and it was great hearing that environmental stability is a truly important issue for the citizens of Austin, and thus for Austin Energy.
Imagine my surprise when a few days after I moved in, contractors for Austin Energy came to my door and informed me that Austin Energy wanted to not only trim my trees drastically, but completely remove several pecans which have obviously been there for years!!  Certainly they have been there since the last trimming cycle, and probably even before the lines were installed.
I was astounded.  This program of clear-cutting on my lot is obviously in direct opposition to the green energy and environmental friendliness that is presented on your website.  I have read the material presented on your website on tree-trimming, but what is presented on your website is not what your contractor presented on my lot.  Your website presents normal tree-trimming for electric lines—no reasonable person would disagree with a program like that.  Your program, it seems, would actually detract from the environment. 
Your contractor, however, proposed to cut down anything within twelve feet of the power lines.  Not trim them—cut them down.  That is simply not reasonable.  These trees were, in some cases, growing in completely opposite directions from the power lines, and clearly posed no threat to them.
Trees are good for the environment.  I live in an urban area where my home covers the majority of the lot.  When these trees were planted, I am sure that the location was chosen because it was the most sensible placement given the placement of the home.  To suggest that the trees be removed is not consistent with the rest of your programs for environmental sensitivity.  In an article in The Austin American Statesman today entitled “Got trees?  Need different ones?  Here’s how to go about it” the paper references a study that shows that a mere 6% increase in the tree canopy of Austin would decrease energy costs by $200 million.  Your initiative seems to be in direct contradiction to this effort.
Coming from California, where we suffer rolling blackouts and ensuing deaths nearly every summer due to the overtaxed energy generation system, what appears to be careless disregard for what could be an important piece of the solution to our city’s energy policy seems to be yet another contradiction in your policies.

Because I am a new owner, please take note that this shall serve as my official refusal for Austin Energy to perform any trimming on my property until we have reached a written agreement as to the work to be performed.

Additionally, because I have a vested interest in ensuring that my new neighborhood remains as beautiful and energy efficient as it is now, I would like to understand this change in policy.  As I mentioned, these trees have been here much longer than your web site’s stated four-year trimming cycle.  That indicates to me that your policy has changed sometime within the last four years to mandate the removal of these trees.  Conversation with my neighbors confirms my assumption- while your web site claims the program begun in 1999 that simply doesn’t add up.
Accordingly, this is a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 5 U.S.C. § 552.  I request that you provide a copy of the meeting minutes of the internal meetings and policy documents describing the tree-trimming policy and the change to the current standard, including the reasons such decisions were made and the names of such decision-makers.

In order to help determine my status to assess fees, you should know that I am an individual seeking information for personal use and not for commercial use.

I am willing to pay fees for this request up to a maximum of $50.  If you estimate that the fees will exceed this limit, please inform me first, however, I request a waiver of the fees for this request.  Disclosure of the requested information to me is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in my commercial interest.

If you deny any part of this request, please cite each specific reason that you think justifies your refusal to release the information and notify me of any appeal procedures available to me under the law.

Finally, please note that it is my understanding that one reason for Austin Energy changing this policy is to improve statistics in order to attract high-tech businesses/data centers to Austin.

While I am leaving my past career as an accountant and an Information Technology consultant behind to begin a new career as an Episcopalian priest, I have experience setting up data centers and preparing and presenting information.  It is my belief that any reasoned person can understand statistics that are footnoted to exclude residential neighborhoods that have older infrastructures, and you might even want to say that residents have chosen to keep older infrastructures less reliable in order to have the benefits associated with the trees rather than the convenience of non-stop electricity.  Reasonable people understand that information if it is footnoted.
If you invite the community into the decision-making process then you can find creative solutions rather than make the community angry, which is what I believe you have now.  You sell yourself as community owned.  If you are community owned, then you must invite the community into a collaborative decision-making process.  Acting any other way is neglecting your owners; indeed it is turning your back on them.
Sincerely,
Jeffrey Martinhauk

Cc:
Toby Futrell, Austin City Manager   Mayor Will Wynn
Council Member Lee Leffingwell   Council Member Mike Martinez
Council Member Jennifer Kim   Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley
Council Member Brewster   Council Member Sheryl Cole
Austin American Statesman Editorial Board Task Force Chair Carolyn Palaima

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2 Responses to “An Open Letter to Austin Energy”

  1. raa11 Says:

    Austin Energy needs to eliminate redundant poles and only run power lines down ONE side of a road. It isn’t necessary to have power lines down both sides.

    Austin Energy should install taller poles that raise the power lines above the trees rather than simply cutting down historic trees.

  2. Jeff Says:

    Agreed. I think we’ve got to find some alternative beside cutting down the trees. And if the poles have to be replaced anyway, why are we replacing them and recreating the exact same problem we have today?

    That just doesn’t make any sense to me.

    j


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