Saving money and saving energy should go hand in hand. Shutting off unused appliances, adjusting the thermostat a few degrees, line drying clothes — it seems logical that Texans who pursue such energy-saving strategies should be rewarded with lower electric bills.

But here’s the rub: many retail electric providers — often unbeknownst to their customers — charge minimum usage fees. This has the effect of penalizing Texans who reduce their consumption below a certain level.  Amigo Energy, Bounce Energy, Cirro Energy, Mega Energy, Tara Energy, and Texas Power all have charged such fees at one time or another, according to a report from the Texas Ratepayers Organization to Save Energy, a consumer group.

Texans also are on the hook for paying surcharges for advanced meters (which have been promoted as devices that can encourage energy efficiency) and to fund a statewide energy efficiency program. Together, these two surcharges cost residential electric customers in the Oncor service territory more than $3 per month.

The ironical effect is that Texans end up paying both for programs meant to encourage energy conservation while simultaneously paying minimum usage fees that penalize them for energy conservation. That’s why these minimum usage fees are so controversial.

One way to help consumers avoid minumum usage fees is by establishing standard offer products, which has been proposed by the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power. Under this proposal, retail electric providers would add standard offer products to their menu of other electricity deals.  The terms and conditions would be set by the Public Utility Commission — but with input from consumers. As with their other electricity offers, REPs would be free to set their own price. You can find out more about standard offer products here.

The Texas Public Utility Commission also is sponsoring a statewide energy efficiency summit on Thursday, March 29, 2013. The hearing will be conducted in the Travis Building in Austin, 1701 N. Congress Avenue, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, check out project numbers 39674 and 33487 at the Public Utility Commission’s online interchange filing system, found here.

— R.A. Dyer