The Houston Chronicle this week has highlighted what is likely the year’s most important legislation for Texas gas utility customers.
House Bill 3749, by state Rep. Jim Keffer, will help ensure that Texas cities continue having a voice to defend their citizens against unwarranted gas utility rate hikes.
A key legislative committee approved the bill last week. But House Bill 3749 still has a long way to go before it becomes law.
As was explained by Chronicle columnist Chris Tomlinson, the legislation would prevent the Texas Railroad Commission from enforcing rules that punish cities for challenging rate hikes.
The bill is simple, sort of.
Here’s the background: back in December, the Texas Railroad Commission adopted rules that would more narrowly assign certain costs associated with litigating gas utility rate cases. Under what had been common practice for generations, those costs previously had been shared by all Texans residing within a utility service area. That’s because all Texans within a utility service area benefit from city representation.
But under the new rules, only citizens living in cities that challenge rate hikes would pay the costs. Other customers, by contrast, would still receive all the benefits of the city representation — but shoulder none of those regulatory costs.
As Tomlinson explains, this Railroad Commission rule change would discourage cities from getting involved in rate cases. And as cities are gas customers only effective advocates in rate cases, this rule change — sooner or later — will lead to higher rates.
What House Bill 3749 does is it restores the balance. Under the legislation, the Railroad Commission would roll back this “direct assignment” rule and assign rate case expenses to all citizens within a utility service area.
Over the last decade or so, cities have helped shave about $500 million from utility rate requests. The legislation by Keffer will help ensure that that advocacy will continue in the future.
Tomlinson, in his column, encourages Texans to get involved, to let their voices be heard.
“Small businesses and consumers should be aware that the very rules they complain about the most, and can cost them serious money, are under discussion in Austin. (But) just as a lobbyist can get a law passed, a little activism can also make a difference,” he wrote.
Stay tuned here for more legislative details as they become available. Want to contact your local lawmaker? Check out the link here.
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.