Problems with Electric Service or Bill and Where to Get Help
This article provides information on problems with your electric service, deregulated service areas and customer service protection standards. This article was provided by Texas ROSE.
When you have problems related to your electricity service or your bill, you can use this guide to locate the people who are most likely to be able to help you.
The first question you must answer is about your electric service provider. This information will get you pointed in the right direction for help. Which of these situations apply to you?
- My electric utility has been deregulated and I am able to choose my electric provider.
- My electric utility is regulated and I am unable to choose my electric provider.
- My electricity is provided by a city owned utility.
- My electricity is provided by a rural electric cooperative.
If you are uncertain, the following should help you decide.
The areas of Texas where customers have the right to choose their electric provider were deregulated in 2002. The names of the wire companies responsible for delivering your electricity are AEP Texas Central Company, Centerpoint Electric Houston, Southwestern Electric Service Company, Texas-New Mexico Power Company, Oncor, and AEP Texas North Company. They are also called transmission and distribution utilities and transmission and distribution service providers. The wire companies remain regulated.
Residential customers on the system are obligated to select a retail electric provider (REP). The REPs are certified by the PUC to sell electricity to residential customers. Every consumer must have an REP. Many consumers take service from their formerly regulated utility. All REPs certified by the PUC must follow PUC customer protection rules.
Some areas of Texas are still served by fully regulated utilities. Customers in regulated service areas can only buy power from the utility certificated to serve the area. These include El Paso Electric Company, Entergy Gulf States, Inc., Southwestern Electric Power Company, and Southwestern Public Service Company (Xcel).
Some areas of Texas are served by about 70 municipally owned utilities. Examples are Austin Energy (City of Austin), City Public Service (San Antonio), Lubbock, Brownsville, Georgetown, Fredericksburg, Giddings and many more. Each city council has the authority to “opt in” to the deregulated market. No municipal utility has opted into deregulation.
Some areas are served by about 70 rural electric cooperatives. Examples are: Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative, Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative, Pedernales Electric Cooperative, Bandera Electric Cooperative, Central Texas Electric Cooperative, DeWitt Electric Cooperative, Hamilton Electric Cooperative, Navasota Valley Electric Cooperative, and Tri-County Electric Cooperative. Each electric cooperative board has the authority to deregulate. Nueces Electric Cooperative has opted into the open market.
Who do I contact if I have a problem with an electric provider?
If you have a problem with any electric provider you should contact the electric provider first and ask them to fix it.
If you get an answer that you do not like from the customer service line, ask to speak to a supervisor. A supervisory review is a step in the PUC customer complaint procedure. Supervisors should be more knowledgeable about rules and regulations. Supervisors also have the discretion to make decisions that the people answering the phones do not have. If your problem is not fixed through the customer service network file a complaint.
The PUC (Public Utility Commision) has different rules for regulated utilities, the provider of last resort, competitive REPs, and transmission and distribution utilities. If you are buying power from a competitive REP many of the standards may be unique to your terms of service agreement. If you are uncertain about the standard your electric provider should be following contact the PUC.
While the PUC regulates only investor owned utilities, many electric cooperatives and municipal utilities say they follow the PUC’s customer protection rules. The PUC’s rules can serve as a benchmark or industry standard and can be used to justify exceptions from weaker unregulated utility standards. The PUC’s Substantive Rules can be found on the PUC web site at www.puc.texas.gov. Click on rules and laws and then Substantive Rules Electric. Scroll the table of contents and click on the sections of interest. Customer protection is in Subchapters B and R. Subchapter B covers the fully regulated utilities. Subchapter R covers the deregulated market.
Rules and policies applied by electric cooperatives and municipal utilities must be researched. Call the cooperative or the city and ask for information; in particular, the customer service and protection standards set by the cooperative’s board of directors or the city council.
Many municipal utilities and electric cooperatives claim to follow the same rules as the PUC. Be sure to check the PUC rules so you will know what to expect. Contact the utility staff about the PUC rules. If you get no result speak to the mayor, a city council member, or an electric cooperative board member. If you get no result, ask to speak at the next city council or board of directors meeting.
After opting into the deregulated market, electric cooperatives and municipal utilities will be required to meet the same standards as other REPs but the standards will be enforced by the city or the electric cooperative board, not by the PUC.