Texas CapitolNearly a quarter billion dollars in rate discounts will continue flowing to 530,000 low-income Texans under legislation adopted last month in Austin. That bill — assuming Gov. Greg Abbott signs it into law — will represent the biggest victory of the 84th Legislative Session for Texas energy consumers.

 But not all the news is so rosy. The session ended June 1, but unfortunately not before consumers suffered a number of setbacks.

Just below is a list of five important bills, and whether we view the corresponding fate of each as good news or bad news for Texas energy customers.  The thumbs up and thumbs down symbols reflect consumer wins and losses, not the merits of the bills themselves. That means a good bill (such as HB 3749) could receive a “thumbs down”  by failing to win adoption. Similarly,  a potentially harmful bill would receive a “thumbs up”  if it failed to pass.

thumbs-up-icon  House Bill 1101, by state Rep. Sylvester Turner, will provide more than $200 million in assistance to low-income ratepayers. Funding for this program comes not from tax dollars, but from fees we’ve already paid on our electric bills. This legislation ensures that money collected from Texans for one purpose is not diverted to another. HB 1101 also helps the neediest among us to pay their light bills. It was approved by both the House and Senate and Gov. Greg Abbott signed it June 17th.

thumbs-up-icon House Resolution 3425 would have delayed for several years an intensive review of the Texas Railroad Commission, which is the state agency that oversees gas utility rates. The resolution emerged unexpectedly during the waning days of the session, passed in the Senate, but then died in the Texas House. Its death came as good news to several lawmakers, consumer groups and city coalitions — each of whom have called for agency reform.

thumbs-down-iconHouse Bill 3749, by Rep. Jim Keffer, would have helped preserve the ability of cities to protect their citizens’ interest in gas utility cases.  It was supported by consumer and city groups, but failed to emerge from the Texas House. We view that as bad news for anyone who pays a gas bill.

thumbs-down-icon House Bill 2254, also by Rep Sylvester Turner, would have prohibited electric companies from applying minimum use fees on home bills. These fees are quite common. They’re also one of the most annoying gotchas in the retail electric market. Despite his best efforts, Rep. Turner couldn’t get this one out of committee.

thumbs-down-iconSenate Bill 777, by Sen. Troy Fraser, would have given the Texas Public Utility Commission more tools to crack down on bad actors in the state’s retail electric market. This bill had the support of the PUC and the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power. It emerged from the Senate, but died in the House.

— R.A. Dyer

What is the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power?

TCAP is a coalition of more than 160 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.

 

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