UPDATEX2: PUC staff: Just say 'no' to POLR relief

elecbill Wouldn’t you love to have a rate like that now?

Several Texas electric retailers went out of business earlier this summer, sending some 40,000 customers onto higher priced plans with new providers — a little drama we’ve written about extensively in this blog and in the paper.
Earlier this month Texas Legal Services Center and Texas Ratepayers Organization to Save Energy filed a “Petition for an Emergency Rulemaking” asking the Public Utility Commission to temporarily waive the deposit requirements and switching fees that low income customers faced when they were dumped to these so-called “providers of last resort.”
A number of the companies to go under were those who offered pre-paid plans, which low income Texans are more likely to sign-up with. The argument is that many of those Texans who were POLRized are those least able to afford switching fees to get on lower priced plans and the big deposits many retailers require. Also, a contributing factor in the failure of those companies were flaws in the way ERCOT, the grid operator, tried to solve congestion problems, which led to big wholesale power price spikes.
PUC staff has recommended the Commissioners deny the request, however. Among the arguments:

“Petitioners do not specifically describe the imminent peril that they believe warrants consideration and adoption of a rule on an emergency basis. Petitioners discuss the recent default of several REPs and the difficulties their customers have had transitioning to new providers. Petitioners do not explain, and it is not clear, how their proposed rule would affect those customers who have already been, or are being, transitioned. Petitioners suggest that there may be additional REP defaults, but provide no indication that such further defaults are imminent.”

So, because they didn’t describe the way low-income customers are in pending peril from losing their service because of an inability to pay, and because they don’t indicate more companies are about to fail, PUC staff says the Commissioners should vote against the relief.
They continue:

“Further, any connection between deposit requirements and switching fees, and health, safety or welfare emergencies is attenuated. Presumably petitioners are concerned about the disconnection of customers for failure to make deposits or to pay the fees. There are, however, existing rules that address service disconnection and the potential impact on customer safety, health and welfare.”

In other words existing rules should protect customers from having their power turned off if they can’t afford a deposit etc.
The PUC meets Thursday and has this issue (go here type in “35868” to see all that’s been filed on this topic) and others related to electricity on the agenda. That’s when they’ll either kill the measure until new rules are considered next legislative session, debate it and put off a decision for another day or… who knows?
**** UPDATE ****
Word is there’s also a movement afoot to get ERCOT to reimburse people for the out-of-cycle meter reads they were encouraged to request to get off POLR(again since part of the problem was due to poor systems design by ERCOT). The Office of Public Utility Counsel got the ball rolling on that idea and hopes to use some of the approximately $2.1 million surplus ERCOT expects this year to reimburse customers for those fees.
Carin Nersesian, assistant director with OPUC said it’s estimated the refunds (if approved) woud cost about half that ERCOT surplus. ERCOT General Counsel Mike Grable said in a report to the board earlier this month the move is “legally permissable.”
*** UPDATE 2 ***
Our colleague in Austin, Janet Elliott, says the PUC rejected the measure during a very quick meeting Thursday morning, saying it can be addressed in other pending case. In other words, nothing will be happening on it any time soon.
Are those customers who got POLRized just a bunch a whiners who should have known better than signing up on a too-good-to-be-true rate with second-rate companies? Or do they have a legitimate gripe about the system having let them down? Let us know.