ELECTRICITY PRICES IN TEXASA Snapshot Report
Although average residential electric prices in areas of Texas with retail electric competition have remained consistently higher than prices in deregulation-exempt areas — the annual percentage price gap between these two areas has dwindled to the narrowest point ever.
Moreover, average residential electricity prices in areas of Texas with retail electric competition have declined during a recent 10-year period, while average prices in deregulation-exempt areas have increased.
Taken together, these developments suggest that the 16-year-old deregulated retail electric market in Texas is delivering some of its best results so far for residential consumers.
However, not all the pricing trends are positive for Texans living in areas with retail electric competition, also known as retail electric deregulation.
For instance, average residential electricity prices have remained consistently higher in those areas, as compared to prices in deregulation-exempt areas. This has been true for every year for which data exist to conduct this analysis.
Texas implemented its retail electric deregulation law in 2002. Under it, Texans in areas such as Houston and Dallas can choose among different electric providers. In other areas that remain exempt from the deregulation law residents receive service from a single provider.
This Snapshot Report on Electricity Prices, an update of similar analyses released by the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, compares residential electricity prices in both deregulated areas of Texas and those in areas exempt from deregulation. It includes long-term pricing information, information about non-by-passable charges assessed by Texas wires utilities and a review of pricing trends nationwide.
About the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power
Unlike the sponsors of other reports about the state’s deregulated power market, TCAP derives no profit from selling electricity. Instead, the more than 150 political subdivisions that comprise TCAP purchase electricity for their own governmental needs. TCAP understands how high-cost power can cause businesses to relocate out of state, and can place heavy burdens on home consumers. TCAP wants what all Texans want: an affordable and reliable supply of power and a vibrant economy.
Major findings include:
- Texans consistently have paid higher average residential electric prices in areas with deregulation, as compared to prices in areas exempt from deregulation. This annual trend began during the very first year of the retail electric deregulation law in Texas, in 2002, and has continued through 2016, the last year for which data are available to conduct this analysis.
- However, the gap in residential electricity prices between areas of Texas with deregulation and areas without it has dwindled precipitously over the last 10 years — and the percentage gap now stands at its narrowest point since Texas began retail electric deregulation.
- Average residential electric prices in deregulated areas have declined by nearly 19.6 percent during the 10-year period from 2007 through 2016. By contrast, average residential prices in areas exempt from deregulation during the same period have increased by nearly 6.1 percent.
- Average residential prices have increased in both deregulated areas and deregulation-exempt areas over the longer term since the implementation of deregulation in 2002. However, the rate of increase has been slightly lower in deregulated areas. The percentage increase in areas with deregulation was 36.48 during that period; the percentage increase in areas without deregulation was 36.95.
- Texas continues to fare well in comparison to other states with deregulated retail electric markets. Average prices for deregulated electricity in Texas have increased at the third lowest rate among 15 states with deregulation.
- Texans now can find many low-priced individual deals inside deregulated areas that beat prices commonly paid in deregulation-exempt areas. These comparatively low-cost competitive deals are more numerous than in previous years.
- Increases in the charges assessed by the state’s major regulated transmission and distribution utilities have outpaced inflation over the last 15 years. Although transmission and distribution rates are regulated, these increases nonetheless contribute to prices in deregulated areas of the state.
Residential Price Increases
Exhibit 2: For 15 Deregulated States, Including Texas 2002-2016
Under the Texas electric deregulation law, consumers in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Corpus Christi and surrounding areas can choose among different retail electric providers. These providers compete for customers by offering different terms of service and prices. Many other parts of the state remain exempt from this competitive system. Exempt areas include those served by municipally-owned utilities (such as in San Antonio and Austin) and those served by electric cooperatives. Also exempt from retail electric deregulation are investor-owned utilities operating outside the area covered by the state’s primary power grid, known as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.1
The existence of this bifurcated electricity system — one in which some Texans receive service from competitive electric retailers and others do not — provides a unique opportunity to compare pricing outcomes. The Texas electric deregulation law was adopted in 1999 with the promise that it would lower rates. But as this analysis shows, the results have been mixed.
About the Report
This report includes five discrete analytical sections:
The benchmarking analyses and the “Lost-Savings” analysis employ data obtained from the United States Energy Information Administration. The long-term benchmarking and Lost-Savings analyses compare pricing outcomes inside and outside deregulated areas of Texas and begin with 2002 — the first year of retail electric deregulation in Texas — and continue through 2016. These analyses do not extend to 2017 and 2018 because the necessary US EIA data for those years are not yet available.
The Recent Prices section samples more up-to-date individual offers in deregulated areas around Houston and Dallas. Readers can find these pricing samples from 2018 rate surveys conducted by the PUC.
The section entitled “Transmission and Distribution Charges” includes rate comparisons from two separate years (2003 and 2018) for the state’s two largest monopoly wires companies, Oncor and CenterPoint. Readers can find the underlying data for this analysis on the PUC website.
For readability purposes, this report employs certain words and phrases interchangeably to refer to areas served by competitive retail electric providers. These words and phrases include “areas with retail electric competition,” “areas with retail electric deregulation,” “competitive areas” and “deregulated areas.” Unless otherwise noted, references to electricity prices are for residential customers.
Texans enjoyed residential electricity rates below the national average for many years prior to the adoption of the retail electric deregulation law in 1999.2 That trend flipped shortly after the law took effect, with average residential prices statewide rising above the national average in 2003 and remaining above the national average until 2011. [See Exhibit 8]
Average Electricity Prices 2017
Exhibit 3: Texas and Adjoining States
Some observers have said that the increase in statewide electricity prices after the deregulation law took effect is not related to the law, per se, but rather to an increase in natural gas prices. This is because natural gas prices are closely linked to wholesale electricity prices, and natural gas prices hit historically high levels after deregulation.3
However, fluctuations in natural gas prices alone cannot explain the historic disparity between average electricity prices inside and outside deregulated areas of Texas, particularly during the early years of the law. For every year for which data exist with which to conduct this analysis — that is, between 2002 and 2016 — average residential prices in deregulated areas of Texas have been higher than average prices in deregulation-exempt areas. [See Exhibit 1].
Moreover, average residential prices in Texas, statewide, remained below the national average for at least a decade prior to the implementation of retail electric deregulation in 2002. Shortly after the law took effect, in 2003, only residential prices in deregulated areas shot above the national average and for most years stayed there. Electric prices in areas exempt from deregulation continued below the national average after 2002 and, with the exception of one year, have stayed below it for the entire history of deregulation in Texas.
This report quantifies this gap in deregulated prices and those charged in areas exempt from deregulation through “lost savings” analyses found in Exhibit 4 and Exhibit 5. These analyses calculate the imputed savings that would have accrued to Texans living in areas of Texas with deregulation had they instead paid the same average prices as Texans living in areas exempt from deregulation.
Customer confusion about retail electric shopping, the details of rate offers and other aspects of the deregulated market may have contributed to historically higher prices there over time. Other contributing factors may include the cost of multi-million dollar marketing campaigns by some retail electric companies and increasing rates charged by monopoly transmission and distribution utilities. These “wires” rates comprise a growing portion of home electric bills in competitive areas.
However, the price gap between areas of Texas with electric deregulation and deregulation-exempt areas continues to narrow. In percentage terms, this differential was smaller during 2016 than during any other year since the beginning of retail electric deregulation in 2002.4
It remains unclear whether the gap has disappeared completely in 2017 and 2018 — or whether the trend of higher prices in deregulated areas has continued — given the unavailability of necessary data from those years for which to conduct the analysis.5
However, a survey of recent competitive pricing offers indicates that many such offers in Houston (the state’s largest city operating under the retail electric deregulation) beat the price of electricity in San Antonio (the largest city in Texas exempt from deregulation). [See Exhibit 12 and See Exhibit 13]. The number of such offers that meet or beat prices in deregulation-exempt areas appears to be on the rise.
3 Public Utility Commission Docket 40000, Item No.447, page 1, Memorandum to Commissioner Kenneth W. Anderson, Jr. from Chairman Donna Nelson.
4 In absolute terms, as cents per kwh, the gap was smaller in 2002.
5 In contrast to findings in this report, Rice University researchers, in a corrected May 2017 report, concluded that the average price paid for electricity by residential consumers in competitive areas during 2016 was “roughly equal, in the aggregate” to the average price paid by Texans in non-competitive areas. These findings appear to have been extrapolated from PUC website data, while TCAP’s findings are extrapolated from US EIA data. For more about the use of US EIA and PUC Data, see the note below.
About US EIA Data and PUC Data
This analysis employs data collected by the United States Energy Information Agency, which is the statistical and analytical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy. U.S. EIA data is known to be impartial, and is widely cited by economists, scholars, industry experts, the news media and governmental agencies — including the Public Utility Commission of Texas.
The consistent manner in which the agency conducts its calculations across all 50 states allows analysts to make apples-to-apples market comparisons. How does the U.S. EIA calculate prices? First, it gathers both revenue and sales data from electricity providers in a given region. It then derives a kilowatt hour or megawatt hour price by dividing revenues in that region by the amount of energy sold there.
TCAP has employed granular U.S. EIA data to calculate average electricity prices inside and outside deregulated areas of Texas, inside and outside areas served by the state’s principal power grid (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas) and for the state’s residential, commercial and industrial customers.
Employing U.S. EIA data in this fashion allows for calculations of average prices of consumed electricity, as opposed to average prices of individual offers made by electric companies. This distinction is important. The problem with averaging offers by electric companies — but without an understanding of how many customers take each offer — is that such an analysis can lead to conclusions that bear little resemblance to actual market outcomes. For instance, while it may be true that many low-cost offers are available in a given area, it may also be true that most Texans living in those areas do not or cannot avail themselves of those low-cost offers because of restrictions in their existing electricity contracts, or for a number of other reasons.
However, an examination of individual offers is nonetheless useful to gain a sense of commonly available electricity prices in deregulated areas, including prices found in fixed-rate and variable-rate deals. This report examines such individual pricing offers, as included in rate surveys conducted by the Texas Public Utility Commission.
This report also examines charges by the state’s two largest transmission and distribution providers, as posted on the PUC website. Transmission and distribution charges by “wires” utilities are non-bypassable, meaning that these charges are imbedded in electricity prices paid by all consumers in the utility’s service territory, regardless of the retail electric provider that the consumer selects for service.
Average Residential Electricity Prices
Exhibit 1: Inside and Outside Deregulated Areas of Texas
Average residential electric prices in deregulated areas of Texas consistently exceed average prices in deregulation-exempt areas. This was true in 2002 — the very first year of the deregulated retail electric market — and true in 2016, which was the last year for which data exist to conduct this analysis. It also has been true for every year in between.
The gap in residential electricity prices in deregulated and non-deregulated areas of Texas widened precipitously during the early years of the new market, but then narrowed by a similarly dramatic fashion in recent years.
During the first five years of deregulation in Texas — from 2002 through 2006 — prices in areas that remained deregulation-exempt increased by 32.3 percent. However, prices increased at more than twice that rate in deregulated areas, by 77.5 percent.
During the subsequent 10-year period, from 2007 through 2016, average residential prices in deregulation-exempt areas increased by 6.1 percent. However, they decreased by 19.6 percent in deregulated areas.
In 2016, the last year for which data exist to conduct these benchmark analyses, the difference in deregulated and non-deregulated residential prices narrowed to its smallest point on record: to 8.8 percent. However, the second smallest gap was observed in 2002, the first year of the deregulation law, when the difference stood at 9.2 percent. In absolute terms, as a difference in cents per kwh, the gap was smaller in 2002 (.7 cents) than it was in 2016 (.9 cents).
Section 1: Long-Term Trends Benchmark Analysis
- Texans living in deregulated areas of the state have paid higher average rates for residential electricity than Texans living in areas exempt from deregulation. This is true for 2002 through 2016 — that is, for every year for which U.S. EIA data exist to conduct this analysis. [See Exhibit 8]. Over those years, average residential prices in deregulated areas have been between 9.2 percent (2002) and 46.5 percent (2006) higher than average prices in deregulation-exempt areas.
- From 2002 through 2016 average residential electricity prices increased at a greater rate at the national level than prices increased in both deregulated and deregulation-exempt areas of Texas. During that period, the percentage increase in average residential prices in deregulated Texas was very similar to the percentage increase in deregulation-exempt areas of Texas — 36.48 percent to 36.95 percent respectively. [See Exhibit 8].
- A shorter view — that is, confining the analysis to the 10 years from 2007 through 2016 — reveals that average residential prices have dropped in deregulated areas by 19.58 percent, while they have increased in areas exempt from deregulation by 6.05 percent. [See Exhibit 1].
- When it comes to residential pricing trends, deregulated Texas compares relatively well against other deregulated states. The 2002-2016 price increase observed in deregulated Texas stands as third lowest increase among 15 deregulated states during that period. This standing represents a slight improvement for Texas since TCAP’s report last year. That report ranked Texas fourth among deregulated states for price increases. [See Exhibit 2].
- Annual average residential electricity prices in deregulated areas of Texas have been higher than the nationwide average during 10 of the 15 years included in the benchmark analysis (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2014). Annual average residential electricity prices in areas of Texas exempt from deregulation have been higher than the nationwide average once during those 15 years (2005). [See Exhibit 8].
- It remains unclear whether the historic disparity between average electric prices in deregulated and non-deregulated areas continues after 2016 because the necessary data to conduct those analyses are not available. However, rate surveys of more recent competitive offers show a substantial number meeting or beating prices in deregulation-exempt areas. [See Exhibit 10 and Exhibit 11].
Section 2: 2016 Electric Prices Benchmark Analysis
- In 2016 Texans in deregulated areas paid, on average, 11.38 cents per kilowatt hour for residential electricity, while the average price of electricity in areas of Texas exempt from deregulation was 10.45 cents per kilowatt hour. The corresponding nationwide average was 12.55 cents. [See Exhibit 8].
- In 2016, the average statewide price of electricity (both inside and outside areas of Texas with deregulation) for all customer classes (residential, commercial and industrial) was 8.4 cents. This beats the 10.3-cent nationwide average price. [See Exhibit 6].
- In 2016, average residential electricity prices charged by deregulated providers within the region served by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (the state’s primary power grid operator) were higher than prices charged by deregulation-exempt providers within that region. This also was the case in other recent years. [See Exhibit 7].
2016: All Customer Classes
Exhibit 6: Combined Residential, Commercial and Industrial Prices
This exhibit depicts electricity prices among all customer classes (residential, commercial and industrial) during three years: 2013, 2014 and 2015. Average prices for these customer classes combined were lower in Texas during these years than they were nationwide. This exhibit also shows average prices inside and outside areas of Texas with deregulation.
2013-2016: Inside and Outside ERCOT
Exhibit 7: Residential Electric Prices
The state’s primary grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, oversees the transmission system in about 85 percent of the state. Deregulated service providers and those exempt from deregulation both operate within this service territory. In areas of the state outside of ERCOT, all service providers are exempt from deregulation. As this series of exhibits illustrates, average deregulated prices in Texas were significantly higher in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 than those charged by providers exempt from deregulation — whether the deregulation-exempt providers operate inside or outside ERCOT.
Average Residential Electricity Prices
Exhibit 8: Texas and United States — 1990-2017*
The statewide average price for residential electricity remained below the national average for many years prior to the implementation of the Texas deregulation law. But after Texas deregulated its retail electric market, the overall statewide average price for residential electricity surpassed the national average and remained significantly above that mark for many years. Note, however, that average residential prices in deregulation-exempt areas of Texas remained consistently below the national average after implementation of the deregulation law. By contrast, average prices in deregulated areas remained consistently above the national average for many years. This dynamic suggests that high residential electricity prices in deregulated Texas contributed to the comparatively high statewide average price after 2002.
This exhibit also shows average statewide residential prices in Texas spiking above the national average in 2001. Although that spike occurred before the deregulation of the state’s retail electricity market, it likely was a function of deregulation. This is because the Texas Public Utility Commission allowed utilities in 2001 to collect excess earnings and high fuel surcharges as a down payment on anticipated collections from the restructuring law. Average statewide residential prices in Texas dropped after the deregulated market opened in 2002 because the fuel surcharges expired and because the deregulation law mandated a 6-percent cut in base rates. Average statewide residential prices then remained above the national average through 2010. [For more about this, see TCAP’s separate report on the History of Texas Electric Deregulation.]
This exhibit does not distinguish between prices in areas of the state that are currently deregulated and non-deregulated prior to 2002. This is because the federal data to conduct that granular analysis are not readily available. The same is true for the years 2017 and 2018.
*2017 data through March 2017
Residential Electricity Prices
Exhibit 9: Percentage Increases 2002-2016
Residential electricity prices increased in deregulated areas of Texas from 2002 through 2016 by 36.58 percent, which is less than the 48.70 percent increase registered nationwide and also slightly less than the 36.95 percent increase registered in areas of the state exempt from deregulation.
Section 3: Lost-Savings Analyses
“Lost savings,” as defined in this report, is the imputed savings that would have accrued to Texans living in areas of Texas with deregulation had they paid the same average prices as Texans living in areas exempt from deregulation. The report examines lost savings both market-wide and on an individual level — and for each year for which data is available to conduct the analyses.
- All told, Texans living in deregulated areas would have saved more than $27 billion in lower residential electricity bills from 2002 through 2016 had they paid the same average prices as Texans living outside deregulation. For 2016 alone, that lost savings amounts to about $800 million. [See Exhibit 4].
- On an individual basis, a typical residential customer under deregulation (defined as a customer paying average deregulated prices and consuming 1,300 kilowatt hours of electricity every month) would have saved more than $5,500 from 2002 through 2016 had he or she paid the same average prices as those charged outside deregulation. This imputed “lost savings” amounts to about $144 for a typical household in 2016 alone. [See Exhibit 5].
The Aggregate Impact: Imputed Higher Costs Exceed $27 Billion In the Aggregate.
Exhibit 4: Average electric prices in Texas charged by deregulated providers have been consistently higher than average prices charged by providers exempt from deregulation. The exhibit at right measures the potential impact of these higher prices. The bars illustrate the aggregate savings that would have accrued to Texans in deregulated areas had they instead paid the lower average rates charged in areas outside deregulation. The imputed “lost savings” ranges from about a half billion per year to more than $3.5 billion.
The Individual Impact: Imputed Higher Costs Exceeds $5,500 on Per-Customer Basis.
Exhibit 5: This exhibit compares electricity costs for a typical customer paying average rates charged by deregulated retail electric providers in Texas, to costs for a customer with the same usage but paying average rates charged by Texas providers exempt from deregulation. Considered in this per-customer fashion, the imputed “lost savings” ranges from about a $110 per year, per customer, to $732 per year per customer. For purposes of comparison, this exhibit assumes monthly electricity usage of 1,300 kWh.
Section 4: Transmission and Distribution Charges
Although monopoly transmission and distribution utilities operate under regulation, their rates impact electricity prices charged by competitive retail electric providers. This is because transmission and distribution utility rates are non-by-passable, which means they are included in a uniform fashion in the rates charged by all retail electric providers that operate in each utility’s service territory.
Rate increases since 2003 by the Oncor utility (operating in the Dallas-Fort Worth area) and the CenterPoint Electric utility (operating around Houston) have outpaced inflation. Transmission and distribution charges paid by Oncor and CenterPoint customers also comprise an increasing share of monthly electric bills. [See Exhibit 10 and Exhibit 11 below].
Non-Bypassable Charges: CenterPoint
Exhibit 10: (September 2003 – March 2018)
Transmission and distribution charges
(in dollars, on 1,000kWh monthly bill)
Transmission and distribution utilities operate as regulated monopolies, even in areas of Texas with deregulation. The rates assessed by these utilities continue going up, sometimes at a rate well beyond that of inflation. For instance, rates charged by CenterPoint Electric in the Houston area have increased 89.3 percent since 2003. In 2003, CenterPoint charges comprised 20.2 percent to 29.2 percent of a typical 1,000 kWh electric bill. In March 2018, CenterPoint charges comprised 30.7 percent to 52 percent of a typical bill. All electric customers in deregulated areas around Houston must pay CenterPoint’s rates, regardless of the retail electric provider the customer chooses for service.
Source: Archived TDU Rate Summaries, PUC
Non-Bypassable Charges: Oncor
Exhibit 11: (September 2003 – March 2018)
Transmission and distribution charges
(in dollars, on 1,000kWh monthly bill)
Rates charged by Oncor utility in the Dallas-Fort Worth area increased by nearly 69 percent since 2003. That rate outpaces the rate of inflation. In 2003, Oncor charges comprised 20.1 percent to 27.4 percent of a typical 1,000 kWh electric bill. In March 2018, the charges comprised 27.7 percent to 48.9 percent of a typical bill. All customers in deregulated areas of the Dallas-Fort Worth region must pay Oncor’s rates, regardless of the retail electric provider the customers choose for service.
Source: Archived TDU Rate Summaries, PUC
Section 5: Recent Prices
- Among adjoining states, residential prices in adjoining Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas were lower during 2017 than in Texas. Residential electric prices in 2017 were higher in adjoining New Mexico and nationwide. [See Exhibit 3]
- Adjoining Louisiana and Oklahoma also enjoyed lower average industrial electric rates in 2017, while adjoining New Mexico and Arkansas had higher rates. [See Exhibit 3]
- Among all classes of customers (Residential, Commercial and Industrial Combined), lower average rates were to be found in adjoining Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma during 2017, and higher in adjoining New Mexico and nationwide. [See Exhibit 3]
- A March 2018 Public Utility Commission survey of electricity deals in Houston reveals 9 competitive offers with prices lower than the electricity price paid in San Antonio. Houston is the largest city in Texas with deregulation. San Antonio is the largest city exempt from deregulation. [See Exhibit 12, below].
- A March 2018 Public Utility Commission survey of electricity deals in the Dallas-Fort Worth area reveals 18 competitive offers with prices lower than the electricity price paid in San Antonio. [See Exhibit 13, below].
Electricity Prices (Houston-Area)
Exhibit 12: Competitive Houston-Area Offers vs. Residential Prices in Deregulation-Exempt Area
(According to PUC Price Surveys, as of March 2018)
Average electricity prices paid by Texans living in areas outside deregulation have been consistently lower than average prices paid in deregulated areas. But that doesn’t mean that Texans can’t find plenty of good deals in deregulated areas. This exhibit shows a number of individual retail offers in the Houston area (as listed in a PUC rate survey for March 2018) that are lower than the residential price of electricity in San Antonio. Houston is the largest city in Texas with deregulation. San Antonio is the largest city exempt from deregulation. This finding is in contrast to the early years of the Texas deregulation law, in which PUC surveys revealed far fewer deals in Houston that were lower than the San Antonio regulated rate. This exhibit also lists electricity prices in other areas of Texas exempt from deregulation. All data has been retrieved from PUC rate surveys.
Electricity Prices (DFW-Area)
Exhibit 13: Competitive DFW-Area Offers vs. Residential Prices in Deregulation-Exempt Area
(According to PUC Price Surveys, as of March 2018)
This exhibit shows individual retail electric offers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as listed in a PUC rate survey for March 2018. Those offers are shown in green. Exhibit 13 also shows electricity prices in many deregulation-exempt areas of Texas. These are marked in blue. The price of electricity in San Antonio, which is the largest city in Texas exempt from deregulation, is shown in yellow.