LCRA general manager to retire; replacement being sought

September 18, 2013 04:30 PM

Becky Motal, general manager at the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), announced today that she will be retiring on Dec. 31, 2013. Motal, who took over as general manager on July 2, 2011, ends a 27-year career with LCRA.

“Leading LCRA was an incredible opportunity for me and one I thoroughly enjoyed,” she said. “The wonderful team at LCRA met every challenge and succeeded admirably. I am proud of the work my leadership team has done, and I am sure all LCRA employees will continue to do great work for this organization and the state of Texas.”

Motal said that even though she is becoming an LCRA retiree, her career has not ended.

“I want to look for new opportunities and new challenges,” Motal said.

Motal’s announcement came after a Wednesday vote of the LCRA Board of Directors to accept her resignation. LCRA Board Chair Tim Timmerman said that a process to replace Motal was beginning.

Motal’s 26-month tenure occurred during one of the most critical times in LCRA’s 78-year history. She took over as general manager during what may prove to be the worst drought on record and took aggressive strides to protect the region’s dwindling water supply. One result is a plan for a new off-channel reservoir in Wharton County, LCRA’s first new water supply reservoir in decades. It is part of the pledge by Motal and the Board to add 100,000 acre-feet of new water supply by 2017.

“Becky took the reins during what may be the most challenging time ever at LCRA,” Timmerman said. “She managed LCRA through a series of crises from devastating wildfires to electric customer disputes to what may be the worst drought on record. I and the rest of the Board very much appreciate her service.”

After taking the helm, Motal quickly reorganized LCRA, eliminating the separate business units of power, water and transmission and consolidating them into one company. That eliminated duplicate positions and streamlined leadership. Just weeks after that reorganization, Motal’s new team faced the worst wildfires in Texas history. The fires threatened numerous LCRA facilities in Bastrop and Travis counties and directly affected more than 100 LCRA employees.

Other challenges soon followed the wildfires. Ten electric customers had not renewed their contracts beyond 2016 and Motal had to adjust to that loss of revenue and a deregulated energy market in Texas. Later, LCRA sued some of those customers who stopped paying LCRA based on allegations that LCRA breached its contracts with them.

To meet the challenges, Motal put forth two goals for LCRA: save money and find water. By reorganizing, streamlining departments, and reducing the workforce by about 500, mostly through two voluntary severance programs, she saved millions of dollars. The changes also opened up new career opportunities for LCRA employees. To find water, Motal pushed for a new reservoir downstream of the Highland Lakes and for permits to use groundwater at the electric generating plants in Bastrop County, a first for LCRA.

“The biggest challenges were managing through this horrible drought and maintaining solid relationships with our power and water customers,” she said. “I couldn’t be prouder of what our team accomplished in meeting those goals.”

Motal also revolutionized internal communications at LCRA, holding regular, live, unscripted Town Hall meetings in which she took questions from employees throughout the basin. She also pushed to stream Board meetings live to LCRA computers so employees could watch the proceedings, began an employee development program, and instituted companywide management leadership training.

Notable projects under Motal’s leadership include beginning work on a new combined-cycle, state-of-the-art Ferguson power plant in Horseshoe Bay. She also led the completion of the state-mandated Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) transmission lines now bringing wind power from West Texas to major electricity markets in Texas.

Other accomplishments include:

  • Leading the sale of LCRA’s retail water and wastewater systems, which consistently cost more to operate than they brought in through revenues;
  • Successfully defending LCRA against unfounded allegations by environmental groups about how LCRA operates the coal-fired Fayette Power Project in La Grange;
  • Working with Chair Timmerman to settle a $1.2 billion lawsuit with the San Antonio Water System over a proposed water supply project dating back nearly a decade; and
  • Opening the San Saba River Nature Park, completing the Colorado River Trail plan for a park in all 10 of LCRA’s statutory counties.

Safety is highly valued at LCRA and several important milestones were reached during Motal’s tenure. The Smithville Rail Fleet Maintenance Facility, which maintains the railcars that bring coal to LCRA’s Fayette Power Project in La Grange, reached 24 years without a serious injury. The Fayette facility itself also reached one million safe-worker hours, a significant achievement at the coal-fired power plant.

Motal began at LCRA in 1987 and served in a variety of roles from manager of External Affairs and Public Affairs to managing LCRA’s Economic and Financial Planning Department. She graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and later obtained her law degree and a Master of Business Administration degree from UT.