The process of making Texans comfortable with deregulation has taken time, but it seems that time has finally arrived. More than 10 years after the electric market became deregulated, the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power reports complaints are at their lowest since deregulation began, dropping 17 percent since 2012 and more than 50 percent in the past four years.
According to the coalition, the drop in complaints shows that Texans are better understanding the nuances of deregulation and enjoying the opportunity to shop for competitive electricity rates. The study is published just days before the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) will hold a public meeting on October 8 to discuss potential changes to the electricity market to improve the reliability of the grid in future years.
Though complaints have decreased, they still totaled about 11,000 this year, significantly higher than the 1,300 made the year before deregulation. However, much of this can be attributed to the ease of filing complaints via the Internet. It does not appear reliability is the source of the increase, as 40 percent of all complaints were related to billing issues, 16 percent about how their service was provided (which didn't change from deregulation) and another 15 percent due to discontinuation of a payment plan.
Deregulation opens up energy markets to competition and divides the energy process into several parts, most notably separating generation, supply and delivery. In a deregulated market, a retail electric provider (REP) purchases wholesale energy from a generation company and sells the energy in a rate plan to customers. The benefit of deregulation is that REPs compete against each other for customers, which can drive down prices. Though the supplier is different, the utility in deregulated areas is still in charge of delivery and infrastructure maintenance.
The study named DPI Energy, Potentia Energy and Acacia Energy as the retailers with the highest number of complaints in 2013, with Glacial Energy, Nueces Electric Cooperative and TXU Energy posting the fewest.
Deregulation is present throughout most of Texas, but there are a few exceptions. Residents of city-owned utilities or cooperatives do not always have the opportunity to shop for competitive electric rates, as the utility gets to decide whether customers can choose a REP or not. Additionally, the state PUC has not yet deregulated the market for customers of some other utilities, because it does not believe these areas have sufficient competition in the wholesale power market to be successfully deregulated.
The report only examined complaints filed with the state PUC, not individual utilities. However, the data supports the claim that deregulation has successfully become part of Texas' energy market, and customers are better understanding the benefits of having the power to choose an energy provider.