Shrugging off an earlier rejection by the agency, state Rep. Sylvester Turner and the AARP have filed a revised petition before the Public Utility Commission calling for the creation of new protections for elderly and infirm electric customers during the hottest days of summer.

The petition calls for the temporary suspension of cancellation fees for customers who seek to save money by switching electric providers. The new petition also calls upon electric retailers to notify customers about the availability of rate discounts. The petition was filed July 17 and was signed by Turner, AARP and several other consumer groups.

The PUC on July 2 rejected an earlier proposal by the same coalition that would have banned electric disconnections when the heat index was forecast to reach 105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. In issuing that earlier rejection, the commissioners said those who face summertime disconnections because they pay too much for electricity should switch providers. The commissioners also noted that low-income customers can get rate discounts through the LITE UP Texas program.

But in a July 17 letter accompanying the new petition, Turner said customers who want to switch providers face substantial obstacles. “Termination fees of several hundred dollars effectively prevent customers from switching,” he wrote. Turner also said that it is likely that several hundred thousand Texans who are eligible for the LITE UP program do not receive assistance from it.

“Since the July 2, 2009 Open Meeting, ERCOT has experienced record high electricity usage,” wrote Turner. “Of course that is due to the extreme and persistent heat we are experiencing. The prior record usage day was in 2006, the last time the Commission took action to prevent dangerous electricity disconnections. More reports of heat related illnesses and death continue to come in. The Public Utility Commission has significant latitude in crafting solutions to dangerous electricity disconnections during the summertime. I urge you to do so.”

The next PUC open meeting is July 30th.

— R.A. Dyer