The Texas Public Utility Commission, which sets electricity rates for the state and allows adjustments for fuel costs, has recently proposed amendments to its procedural rules that would limit consumer advocate input into potentially abusive rate changes.
Prior to any rate changes, the Commission holds public hearings where experts for the utility companies present highly technical reports drawn from their own data. Representatives of consumer groups can participate in these hearings, but they typically advance consumer interests by challenging the data and assumptions presented by the industry's experts.
The Commission has proposed to limit the amount of demands for information that consumer advocates can make of utility companies and the number of written question they can submit at public hearings.
In an op-ed for yesterday's Austin-American Statesman, CPR Scholar and University of Texas School of Law professor Tom McGarity lays out the potential problems for consumers if the rule goes forward. McGarity notes:
Most of us take for granted the large role that electricity plays in our daily lives until we receive our monthly electric bills. And most of us are unaware of the role that consumer advocates play in keeping those bills as low as possible. But we had best pay attention to a battle that is brewing between consumer advocates and the electric utility industry in the Texas Public Utility Commission, because it has serious implications for the rates that we will pay for electricity in the future.
Lawyers for the electric utility companies have persuaded the commission to propose amendments to its procedural rules that will seriously impede consumer advocates’ efforts to keep utility companies honest in most of its hearings related to electricity rates.
To read the full piece, click here.