Consumer advocates say this one change could help electric customers

HOUSTON – Deregulating the electric market in Texas gave consumers the choice of which power company they want to pay for their electricity, but weeding through the providers and plans is not easy. It takes time and focus. Even when you think you’ve read everything, there are “gotchas” and fine print that can stick you with a higher bill than you thought you’d be paying. It’s why some consumer advocates want state lawmakers to refine the system.

“What we really think we need is a standard plan that people can compare apples to apples, and make sure that they’re really doing good price comparisons to find their best value in the market,” explained Tim Morstad with AARP Texas.

Morstad says it’s how electric deregulation works in some states, like Pennsylvania. Customers can sign up with any retail electric provider or with the state’s standard offer program where all customers pay the same fixed rate for one year that is 7% below the price the utility pays for electricity.

“Wow, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to say, ‘Hey, I don’t have two hours to go shop for electricity, but I know that the plan A from each of these companies are going to be the same in the details,’” said Morstad. “That’s all within reach, but we need legislative action to create a standard plan.”

It’s not a brand new idea. When state lawmakers first passed deregulation in 1999, Mayor Sylvester Turner, then a state representative, proposed the same thing.

“That’s also where the state fell short,” Turner said. “They deregulated, but they dropped many of the consumer protections. They protected the industry. They didn’t do nearly enough to protect consumers.”

Even though there are more than 200 bills focused on the electric market being proposed this session, none of them would give consumers more protections like what AARP is recommending. You can find out what your elected representatives in Austin are doing to fix the electric industry at the Legislature and find links to email them directly here.

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Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.