Thanks to electric deregulation, Texans in many parts of the state have the ability to shop for electricity. If Texans don’t like what you’re paying, many can simply switch providers.

But electric deregulation doesn’t give customers complete control over what they pay for power. Legislative action at the state Capitol also can impact rates — and sometimes for the worse.

That’s why it’s important to keep a close eye on Austin during the 83rd regular session of the Texas Legislature. More than 100 bills relating to electric and gas utility service have been filed at the Capitol. Some of these bills could lead to higher rates.

Among problematic bills, for instance, are House Bills 1148 and 1149, which would limit the ability of cities to protect their citizens in utility rate cases. HB 1148 and HB 1149 are top priorities for CenterPoint Energy, a Houston utility, but have attracted opposition from consumer activists and cities.

Sylvester Turner, D-Houston.

Sylvester Turner

Another bill that has drawn concern is House Bill 711. Under this legislation, the Public Utility Commission would lose its ability to pass along utility tax savings to ratepayers. If House Bill 711 (or its companion, Senate Bill 1364) becomes law, the result almost certainly would be higher electric rates.

Some bills that would help electric customers include House Bill 1962 and its companion, Senate Bill 599. These bills would require that retail electric companies include a “standard product” among their menu of other electricity offers. By comparing standard products, Texans could more easily make apples-to-apples price comparisons when shopping for power.

Sen. John Carona

Sen. John Carona

Other beneficial bills include House Bill 550 (by state Rep. Sylvester Turner) and Senate Bill 326 (by state Sen. John Carona). These bills would safeguard a special fund intended to help low-income Texans pay their electric bills. The Legislature in recent years has raided this fund for budget-balancing purposes.

Lawmakers this year also are considering important “Sunset bills” that will reauthorize operations at the Public Utility Commission and the Texas Railroad Commission. The PUC and the Railroad Commission have responsibility for electric and gas rate regulation, respectively. The PUC Sunset bills are House Bill 1600 and its companion, Senate Bill 206. The Railroad Commission Sunset bills are House Bill 2166 and its companion, Senate Bill 212.

You can find a full description of bills at the Texas Capitol website,   Looking for the name and contact information for your lawmaker? Check out the link, found here.

— R.A. Dyer