Average electric rates paid in deregulated states are 55 percent higher than average rates in regulated ones — and that gap is widening, according to a coalition of public interest groups calling this month for congressional action.

In a joint statement released in Washington, the American Public Power Association, Public Citizen and other groups said that Congress and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should investigate how high electricity prices impact low-income consumers. It said that while customers in all states feel the pinch from high electricity prices, it’s been those in deregulated states who get the worst deals.

“While consumers continue to struggle to pay their electricity bills, the deregulated markets serving about two-thirds of the country continue to create opportunities for excessive profits for a handful of companies that own generating plants,” the coalition noted in its Nov. 3 release.

Besides the APPA and Public Citizen, the group includes the National Consumer Law Center, The Utility Reform Network, the Public Utility Law Project of New York and the Virginia Citizens Consumer Counsel. The groups cited survey data showing the percentage of low-income households forced to sacrifice food in order to pay for electricity had increased by 70 percent since 2003, and the percentage of low income consumers foregoing medical or dental care in order to pay for utility bills had more than doubled.

In Texas, average residential rates remained below the national average for a decade or more before deregulation, and then have remained above the national average after competition. Recent reports also show that even the lowest cost offers in deregulated areas of Texas can’t match regulated rates elsewhere.

— R.A. Dyer