Inside E Street, a Public Broadcasting System program featured on more than 200 TV stations nationwide, has begun airing a new segment. It’s main focus: electric deregulation in Texas.
“Over the past ten years, the average retail price of Texas electricity has consistent exceeded the national average,” noted Inside E Street host Lark McCarthy, citing federal data. The veteran newscaster also identified new challenges for residential consumers.
Texas is among about 15 states with deregulated retail electricity markets. The intent is that electric companies compete in these markets and free-market forces keep a lid on prices and improve service. But as experts on the PBS report noted, technological and economic barriers unique to electric power can make deregulation a difficult proposition.
For instance, electricity — unlike other commodities — cannot be stored. This means that under deregulation consumers can become captive to volatile price swings. And because electricity is essential to the public welfare, dips in reliability or increases in price can cause serious hardships.
“The focus of the original deregulation effort was to get lower prices — and that has not worked well,” said Geoffrey Gay, general counsel for the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power. Interviewed for the PBS segment, Gay also noted that comparison shopping under Texas deregulation can be difficult. “I’ve been dealing with utility business for 33-plus years, and I have found personally the options available very confusing,” he said.
TCAP and other consumer organizations have advocated for the creation of standard-offer products to make apples-to-apples shopping easier. Under the proposal, retail electric providers would offer products with standardized terms and conditions along with their other electricity deals. These deals would be listed at the state-sponsored powertochoose website. But under heavy industry lobbying, lawmakers have yet to embrace the reform.
“For many folks, especially for the elderly and the poor, going to the powertochoose website (to shop for electricity) can be an incredibly intimidating process,” said Gay.
Is a policy analyst for TCAP, a coalition of cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.