More Texans could soon have the right to choose their electricity provider and shop for a lower electric rate, as Sharyland Utilities has proposed expanding customer choice to its entire service area.

Currently, only Sharyland's McAllen division offers customer choice.

Sharyland also serves 44,000 customers in the Celeste, Brady, Stanton, and Colorado City areas, and these customers may not currently choose their electric provider.  Sharyland acquired these customers in taking over the former Cap Rock Energy service area in 2010.

Cap Rock Energy, a former cooperative, was the only investor-owned utility in ERCOT where customers could not choose their retail electric provider.

Under a proposal filed with the Public Utility Commission, Sharyland would extend choice to the Celeste, Brady, Stanton, and Colorado City service areas starting January 1, 2014.

The introduction of choice is expected to lower electric rates in the Sharyland service areas, according to an analysis prepared for the utility.

Specifically, if residential customers at Sharyland's Stanton and Colorado City division had the opportunity to choose their electric provider from November 2009 through October 2010, they would have saved between $170 and $434 (13%-23%).

Commercial customers would have saved 18% from November 2009 to October 2010 if they had the opportunity to choose their electric supplier, while industrial customers would have saved between 30% and 46% during the same period.

One of the reasons electric choice has not yet been introduced to the former Cap Rock service areas is that two of the areas -- Stanton and Colorado City -- are not part of the ERCOT electricity grid which serves most of Texas and offers customer choice.  Instead, they are part of a regional, interstate grid known as the Southwest Power Pool, which also serves the Texas panhandle and other states.  The Southwest Power Pool cannot accommodate retail choice at this time.

However, the Texas Public Utility Commission recently approved moving Sharyland's Stanton and Colorado City divisions from the Southwest Power Pool into ERCOT, which will provide customers in these and other Sharyland territories the opportunity to save money on their power bill by shopping for a competing energy provider.

When other parts of Texas opened up to choice, such as Dallas and Houston, customers were initially assigned to an "affiliated retail electric provider," or A-REP, which was formerly the incumbent utility (such as TXU or Reliant).  Sharyland, however, is proposing that before an assignment of customers to a "default" REP occurs, customers will be given a choice to select their own electric provider, so they are never "defaulted" onto the backstop provider.

As the transition to choice progresses, it will be important that customers at Sharyland exercise this immediate right to choose their energy provider to maximize their savings, and avoid being assigned to a company they have not affirmatively selected.  Of course, once the initial assignment is complete, customers will be free to leave the "default" REP the same way customers could leave the old A-REPs for lower electric rates at any time.