Understanding your energy rights as a consumer in Texas

July 29, 2020   By Caitlin Cosper

Understanding your energy rights as a consumer in Texas

Searching for the right energy plan can feel overwhelming and confusing. However, there are rules in place to protect the rights of both consumers and energy providers. And with these rights come certain responsibilities for you and your retail energy provider (REP) to fulfill.

It is crucial that you understand your energy responsibilities and rights as a consumer before committing to an electricity plan. So, what are they? And how can you make sure your rights are protected? Read on to learn more.

Your responsibilities as an energy consumer

When you sign an energy contract, you are entering into an agreement with your REP. This means you agree to fulfill responsibilities in order to receive electric service. These responsibilities include the following:

  • Paying all charges shown on your monthly electric bill – including all electricity charges, base fees, TDU charges, meter fees, and other taxes or fees.
  • Paying all charges or fees that do not show up every month as outlined in your Terms of Service – including (but not limited to) fees for disconnection, late payment fees, or early termination fees.
  • Paying your monthly bill on time or being charged a late payment charge.
  • Contacting your REP if you would like to request a deferred payment option

Your REP’s responsibilities

Entering into an agreement with your REP means the energy provider also must fulfill certain responsibilities. These include the following:

  • Providing service in a non-discriminatory manner – meaning the provider will not discriminate based on race, gender, ethnicity, origin, or in any other manner.
  • Providing electricity at the price noted on your electricity facts label (EFL).
  • Notifying you in advance of any changes that are not noted in your EFL or any changes to your contract.
  • Sending you written notice of future disconnection due to lack of payment and to reconnect and continue service as outlined in your contract once payment resumes.
  • Sending you a contract expiration notice at least 14 days before your contract is terminated.
  • Giving you an emergency outage number so you can contact your local utility company in the case of a power outage.

Your energy rights as a consumer

Along with these responsibilities, you have rights as a consumer of energy. If you believe your rights have been violated, you will need to file a complaint with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) of Texas.

Your rights as a consumer include:

  • To receive electric service in a non-discriminatory manner.
  • To protection of your privacy. Your REP cannot disclose or sell your confidential information, which includes your name, address, account number, historical energy usage, predicted usage patterns, etc.
  • To receive information from your REP in any language in which you were solicited. This information includes your Terms of Service, your Rights as a Consumer document, bills, and any other notices or communications sent by your REP.
  • To request to have your meter read up to four times each year at no additional cost. If you have had your meter read four times and it is functioning normally, extra readings may require an added cost.
  • To apply for Critical Care Residential Customer or Chronic Care Residential Customer designation if you are eligible.

If you have a dispute with your REP, you should contact your REP and have them investigate the manner. If the dispute continues, you can request a supervisory review. Similar to your rights and responsibilities, your REP also has certain rights. These include:

  • To send you bills including charges for your energy usage, as is explained in your EFL.
  • To charge you a deposit if your credit score is below a designated level.
  • To disconnect electric service due to non-payment, in accordance with PUC rules.
  • To charge a late fee for payment received after a monthly billing deadline.
  • To bill you for any other charges agreed to in your contract.

A note on slamming and cramming

You may encounter these two terms and should know what they mean.

Slamming is an unauthorized switch of your electricity service. It is illegal in Texas. Your REP must have your consent before switching you to a new plan or service. If you believe there are signs of slamming, contact the PUC immediately. You should also contact your REP and request your service be switched back to your previous provider or plan.

Cramming is an unauthorized charge on your electric bill. It is illegal in Texas. Your REP must notify you of any new charges before the charges appear on your bill. If you believe there is evidence of cramming on your bill, contact your REP immediately.

What to do if you have an issue with your REP

Step 1. Contact your REP and try to resolve the issue directly.

Step 2. If you are unable to resolve the issue with your REP, you can file a complaint with the PUC. Once you have filed your complaint, the PUC will contact your REP. After this, the REP has 21 days to investigate the complaint and respond to the PUC. The PUC will appoint an investigator, who will determine whether the REP has violated your rights or failed to follow the law. The PUC will then send you and your REP notice of the investigator’s conclusion.

Step 3. If you are unsatisfied with the PUC investigator’s conclusion, you can file a formal complaint to the PUC. These formal complaints work similarly to a court case, so you might be required to attend a hearing. If this is the case, you might want to consider bringing an attorney with you.

 

Caitlin Cosper is a writer within the energy and power industry. Born in Georgia, she attended the University of Georgia before earning her master’s in English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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