Texas legislator endorses schedule for power deregulation

Nov 06, 2001 01:00 AM

One of the authors of the state's deregulation bill expressed unqualified optimism that Texas would be ready for competition on Jan. 1."Texans need to understand that competition is going to happen, and that is going to happen on January 1, 2002," state Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, said in the opening statements of a legislative oversight hearing on power deregulation.
After more than four hours of testimony from the state's power grid operator and the Public Utility Commission, the bill's other author came to the same conclusion -- with some qualifications. "I have not heard a fatal flaw," said state Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas. "I feel confident that we will go forward on 1/1/02. But I have an open mind about not going forward."

Between now and New Year's Day -- when most of the state's consumers will be able to chose a retail power provider -- the Electric Reliability Council of Texas Inc. has to complete a series of tests on an updated version of its system. But the CEO of the council, thestate's principal grid operator, said he could open the market anytime with the system that's already in place.
The reliability council is "fully prepared to go forward," CEO Tom Noel said. "If the market had to open tomorrow, I think we could open it tomorrow." Mr. Wolens said he didn't expect to hear anything different from the Electric Reliability Council, which is under "tremendous pressure" from retail power providers and other participants to open the market on time.
Still, he said, he isn't hearing any complaints from market participants about problems with the system. At the last meeting of the legislative oversight committee in September, legislators grilled the grid operator about the painfully slow rate at which it was switching customers to new providers in a deregulation pilot project.

The reliability council was also grappling with glitches that caused it to charge some municipal utilities millions of dollars for some services it provides. Astronomical rates from so-called providers of last resort left legislators wondering whether consumers who were rejected by traditional providers would be stuck with predatory power rates.
By a meeting, it seemed most of those issues were being worked out. "I am highly confident that we will be there in time for the market to open on Jan. 1," said Public Utility Commission Chairman Max Yzaguirre, whose agency ultimately makes any decision on a delay. But consumer groups wish the changes had come sooner and are still calling for a delay to competition.
"Some progress has been made," said Janee Briesemeister, a policy analyst with Consumers Union in Austin. "If we had these discussions in June, July or even August, this wouldn't be as big a concern." Mr. Wolens and some other legislators said all their concerns aren't completely allayed either. They want the Public Utility Commission to have a hearing in mid-December to decide definitively whether the state is ready for competition on Jan. 1.
"I certainly would appreciate a final decision from the PUC," said Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Houston Democrat. "I think that would provide a source of confidence for everyone," he said.

Source: The Dallas Morning News
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