Electricity issues may not get as much ink as abortion-ban legislation here in Texas, but there were a few bills filed this session -- more like kale than red meat -- that sure as heck would have had a bigger impact on your pocketbook. They were common-sense and pro-consumer protections and, obviously, they died pitiless, ignominious deaths in Austin.
For example, Representative Sylvester Turner tacked on a provision to a sunset bill that would have required the Public Utility Commission to conduct a cost-benefit analysis before it implements any change in the electricity market that may cost consumers $100 million or more. The Texas House passed the bill and the Senate took it up. Senator Troy Fraser offered up a similar -- though watered down -- amendment that raised the study trigger to an even $1 billion. He called the need for this kind of study an essential "transparency issue."
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Apparently, not many shared his views, because Fraser eventually withdrew the amendment.
Have you ever attempted to decipher your electricity contract? Senator Wendy Davis and Turner proposed that each retail electricity provider offer at least one easy-to-understand, fixed-rate contract whose terms are vetted by state regulators. AARP has long supported such contracts and thought they made eminent good sense for its membership. You may be noticing a pattern here. The bills languish in committee.
Not all electricity-related legislation failed. Texas utilities, including Dallas-based Oncor, are collecting hundreds of millions of dollars from ratepayers to offset federal tax liabilities. In Oncor's case, however, the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power says it hasn't paid a dime to the IRS in years. The PUC has the ability to reconsider a utility's tax liabilities. Or, at least, it does until Governor Rick Perry signs a bill that would strip the regulator of this ability.
That such sensible legislation fails while phantom-tax legislation thrives should come as no big surprise. The Association of Electric Companies of Texas is a powerful lobby, employing employing some 34 lobbyists last year. According to Texans for Public Justice, four of the top five lobbying clients during this legislative session were in the electricity sector. Dallas-based Energy Future Holdings comes in second, and its poles-and-wires utility Oncor comes in fourth. EFH and its subsidiaries, all told, spent $6.2 million on lobbying contracts this session, according to TPJ.