LCRA is prepared for the changes and challenges ahead

​By Becky Motal
LCRA General Manager

In my six months as general manager of the Lower Colorado River Authority, I have initiated major changes to make us a more nimble, efficient, cost-conscious operation. With the blessing of our Board of Directors, we have stabilized power rates, pushed for divestiture of LCRA's costly water and wastewater systems, and offered a voluntary severance package to reduce our workforce.

This was done without sacrificing LCRA's quality of service, our public service mission or our reputation for fairness and transparency. But with big changes comes uncertainty and, sometimes, misinformation. Among the areas of concern is speculation regarding the Fayette Power Project (FPP) near La Grange.

As many of you know, Austin Energy owns 50 percent of FPP's units 1 and 2. LCRA alone owns unit 3. Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell and others have suggested that Austin rid itself of its interest in those coal-fired units. When I'm asked what that means for LCRA and FPP, I'm not trying to be flippant when I answer, "Not much."

First, LCRA has not been formally approached by Austin Energy regarding potential changes in its ownership interest in FPP. If we receive a proposal from Austin, it will be thoroughly analyzed and discussed with the Board. Also, LCRA has right of first refusal if Austin wishes to sell its share of the plant. FPP is a vital part of our portfolio now and for the future. It provides affordable, reliable electricity to meet customer demands in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.

Recent federal emissions standards for coal-fired plants have also fueled speculation about the future of FPP. Please be assured that FPP is well positioned to comply with proposed cross-state air pollution rules if they are enacted. LCRA and Austin Energy invested more than $400 million to install scrubbers to reduce pollutants from FPP. Because FPP's 1,625 megawatts make up nearly half of LCRA's generation capacity and can provide electricity to more than 400,000 homes during times of peak power use, it is a valuable asset and LCRA has no plans to sell or close it.

Another source of questions has been the number of FPP employees who retired or accepted the recent voluntary severance offer. It was a good opportunity for LCRA employees and will reduce our costs. But did losing experienced employees leave FPP understaffed or poorly staffed? Not at all. Of the 347 employees working at FPP in all capacities, 43 volunteered for the severance package. Plant Manager Jane Luedecke was among those who chose to take the severance, and she and the other retirees definitely will be missed.

However, it was no secret that many of those employees with 25 and 30 years experience at FPP would eventually retire around the same time. LCRA has a trained, skilled, experienced staff to replace those retirees. We have long had a succession plan, and it's working well. New FPP Plant Manager Kent Dawson is a registered professional engineer who has been with LCRA 25 years. He has served as an engineer, supervisor, assistant plant manager, interim plant manager, and most recently as plant manager at the Lost Pines Power Park. It is no exaggeration to say Kent knows his way around a generating plant.

During this terrible drought, there is genuine interest in how LCRA is managing the water supply and whether there will be enough water for the power plants. The answer is yes. With conservation, an emergency Water Management Plan in place and a new one being written, curtailment of water for agriculture, and preparation to require mandatory reductions in water use, LCRA is working hard to conserve the water in the lakes and river and use it as efficiently as possible.

Even if this devastating drought continues, there is enough water to meet critical needs for years to come. FPP and the other power plants are subject to the same mandatory water reductions as cities and industries, but we are prepared for that dire emergency, should it occur, and generation will continue.

These are difficult times, but LCRA has faced adversity before and provided quality service to its customers and the public. We will continue to do so as a conscientious steward of the lakes, the river, the land and the public trust.

Becky Motal became general manager of LCRA in July 2011.