BPUB refunds to begin: Customers to receive Tenaska project rebates

A view of Brownsville Public Utilities Board Annex Building from Robinhood Drive Wednesday afternoon, May 3, 2023. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)
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The goal was, as closely as we can, pay you back for what you paid in, return exactly what you paid in.

After a months-long process of due diligence in figuring out how to refund its electric customers money from rate hikes related to the failed Tenaska Brownsville Generating Station project, the Brownsville Public Utilities Board is ready to move forward.

The city-owned utility’s plan for releasing more than $30.8 million from the “Tenaska equity fund” (TEF) was approved by the BPUB board on May 1 and by the Brownsville City Commission on May 2.

Refunds will be issued to electric customers who were charged between April 2013 and September 2016 (the TEF time frame) “based on individual accounts’ total consumption in kilowatt-hours (kWh) during the TEF time frame as a percentage of the total consumption during that period.”

BPUB board member Joseph Hollmann explained that “basically as you paid in is what you’re getting out. That’s what we’re aiming to do.”

“The goal was, as closely as we can, pay you back for what you paid in, return exactly what you paid in,” he said.

In instances where customers got help paying their electric bills from a utility assistance program, the portion of the refund attributable to that assistance will be returned to the program agency, according to BPUB.

A refund will be calculated for all BPUB electric customers including the city of Brownsville and BPUB itself, though COB and BPUB will pool their refund amounts and distribute them equally to all other customers with active accounts during the TEF time frame and whose accounts were still active as of May 1.

Customers who still owe money to BPUB will receive refunds minus the amount owed, according to BPUB.

A Brownsville Public Utilities Board customer pays his utility bill Wednesday morning, May 3, 2023, at the BPUB Administration Building drive-thru. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

In phase one of the refund process, customers with active accounts as of May 1 will receive a credit on their bills for the amount of the refund. The estimated implementation date is May 8. Customers will see the credit on their next bill following that date, BPUB said.

For phase two, customers without active accounts currently will receive their refund, in accordance with BPUB’s current policies, via a check mailed to their last known address, with an estimated implementation date of May 22.

BPUB released this statement late Wednesday:

The distribution of the $31.35 million Tenaska Equity Fund (TEF) was finalized Tuesday night at a Brownsville City Commission meeting on May 2.

Brownsville commissioners acted on a resolution approved May 1 by the Board of Directors of (BPUB) based on recommendations made by a joint subcommittee of BPUB and the city of Brownsville.

The TEF includes $29 million collected from April 2013 to September 2016 to be used for anticipated costs during the construction phase of a proposed power plant project.

On April 10, the BPUB Board of Directors voted to include BPUB’s net interest earned on the $29 million, an additional $2,082,611. The city of Brownsville received $208,261 from that interest as part of BPUB’s payment transfers to the city.

A view of Brownsville Public Utilities Board Annex Building Wednesday afternoon, May 3, 2023. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

This leaves a net amount of $1,874,350 added to the TEF, bringing the total to $30,874,350. Additional interest from October 2022 through March 2023 totaled an estimated $534,134. With 10 percent, or $53,413, transferred to the city of Brownsville, this leaves a net amount of $480,721. At a special board meeting May 1, the Board of Directors at BPUB approved including those funds into the total TEF, bringing the new total to $31.35 million. That $31.35 million will be distributed as refunds to BPUB electric customers within the April 2013 to September 2016 TEF time frame based on electric consumption.

This will ensure that customers get back what they paid into the TEF. Currently active customers will receive a credit on their bill. Former customers will receive their refunds via check in accordance with BPUB policies. Checks will be sent to the last forwarding address provided to BPUB.

In addition, BPUB and the city of Brownsville both voted to pool together refunds that were set to go to them and distribute those funds equally among all TEF time frame customers who are still active account holders as of May 1, 2023. This additional $1.6 million will ensure that each of these active customers receives at least an estimated $48.91, not including any refund that customer will also receive.

TEF by the numbers:
>> $31.35 million, total amount in TEF;
>> $29 million, funds originally collected for power plant project;
>> $2.35 million, total interest earned, minus city of Brownsville transferred;
>> $918,055, city of Brownsville refund, portion of active customer TEF allocation;
>> $762,963, BPUB refund, portion of active customer TEF allocation.
A view of the land where the failed Tenaska power plant project would’ve been, along Old Alice Road near SH 550 Wednesday, May 3, 2023, in Brownsville. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

Refunds to current BPUB customers are expected to be issued May 8. Current BPUB electric customers will be able to check the status of their refunds after that date. Refunds will show up as a named line item on bill statements entitled “Tenaska Equity Fund (TEF) Refund.”

There will be an additional line item entitled “City and BPUB TEF Allocation” for the city of Brownsville and BPUB refunds. Checks to former customers are expected to be issued beginning May 22.

“We at BPUB appreciate our customers’ patience as we went through the process necessary to issue these refunds,” said BPUB General Manager and CEO Marilyn Gilbert. “We want to make issuing these refunds as simple for the customer as possible. If any customer has any questions or concerns, we encourage them to reach out to us or visit our website.”

If customers have any questions about the distribution of the TEF, they can send an email to [email protected] or call (956) 983-6121.

If customers would like to learn more, they can visit www.brownsville-pub.com/TEFrefund.


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