Business leaders like both choices for Austin Energy chief, but environmentalists don’t share their enthusiasm
A panel of environmental activists concluded Thursday that neither of the two finalists selected by City Manager Marc Ott is a suitable choice to be Austin Energy’s next general manager. Business representatives, meanwhile, concluded that both Larry Weis and David Wright, both of whom run California utilities, would be a good pick.
The business representatives and environmentalists interviewed the candidates as part of the city’s formal hiring process. Ott will make the final hiring decision.
The general manager’s responsibilities include implementing an aggressive shift to renewable energy, overseeing a major rate increase around 2012 and rethinking the utility’s basic business model.
The environmental panel said Ott should reopen the search and consider offering a much higher salary to widen the pool of potential candidates. Several of its members have said they prefer Karl Rábago, who oversees Austin Energy’s renewable-energy and energyefficiency initiatives.
“Austin Energy is in a time of transformative changes,” said Cary Ferchill, a representative of environmental group Public Citizen who advised the city in crafting a renewable- energy plan passed this year.
Given the differences between California and Texas, “I think the learning curve for these candidates is quite high,” Ferchill said. “I don’t think Austin Energy should put its plans on hold and wait for them to catch up.”
The business panel concluded both Weis and Wright would be excellent choices, although members said neither candidate rose above the other. They said Ott should not delay picking a general manager.
“I felt like the candidates both had very relevant experience for what Austin is doing,” said Martha Smiley, president of the Austin Area Research Organization, an umbrella business group. “There is a mandate in California similar to Austin’s plan, and they have worked extensively to add renewables to their utilities.”
David Wright works in Riverside, Calif.
Larry Weis works in Turlock, Calif.