Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Electric Deregulation Turns Ten in Texas

Photo by Flickr user Sharon Drummond/Creative Commons

Deregulation turns ten years old in Texas this year.

Anniversaries are horrible things to forget, so here’s one that you might have let slip by. This month marks ten years of de-regulation in the Texas electricity market.

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for rate payers since then, according to one new study.

A typical electric customer paid $3,000 in added costs over the last ten years because of deregulation, according to a history commissioned by the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power. The report estimates that Texans spent $11 billion cumulatively because of higher rates.

Here’s a table from the report that shows exactly that:

Graphic Couresy of the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power

A graph from the TCAP report showing average residential electricity prices inside and outside deregulated areas of Texas.

Geoffrey Gay, lead counsel to the Coalition, says one of the reasons is the way retail electric providers operate in Texas.

“We have a system where we have numerous, hundreds maybe, of retail electrical providers who really add no value to this system. By law they can’t own wires. They don’t own the distribution system, they don’t own the meter. By law they can’t own any distribution sources. So they are truly an unnecessary intermediary,” said Gay.

Defenders of deregulation argue that Texas has seen unprecedented growth in the past ten years. Mark Bruce, with the consulting firm Stratus Energy Group, says that makes it difficult to compare rates in Texas with other states.

“To give you an example, for like four years in a row leading up to the ’08 recession, the Dallas Fort-Worth area added the electrical equivalent of Little Rock, Arkansas every single year,” Bruce told StateImpact Texas.

The Texas grid will face challenges in the coming year.  According to the report, Texas has one of the lowest electric reserve margins in the country. That means we are at a greater risk of rolling blackouts during times of high energy use.

Texas lost a large amount of anticipated new electricity production when the Sandy Creek Energy Station outside of Waco announced that an accident will keep it from coming online this year. That illustrates just how dependent the state is on private investment in a deregulated market, argues Gay.

Graphic Couresy of the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power

A graph from the TCAP report shows how rates have changed in Texas after deregulation.

“Regulators including the Public Utility Commission and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) have given up their right to control the supply of power,” said Gay. “They can’t demand that any particular party in our state build new generation capacity. We depend upon the market to do that.”

Gay and others doubt that another large project like Sandy Creek is likely to come on line any time soon.

Photo by Mose Buchele for StateImpact Texas

Kent Saathoff works on grid planning and operations for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

“Under the current structure of the competitive market, we need to have a market and market prices that encourage investors to invest in new generating plants,” said Kent Saathoff, who’s in charge of planning and operations for ERCOT.

But the current market does not favor that investment.

“Lower natural gas prices have essentially lowered the cost of electricity, which has made it less attractive for investors to build new generation in ERCOT, and so lower natural gas prices, while they’re certainly good in the short term, they certainly don’t incentivize new generation to be built in the state,” said Saathoff.

Supporters of deregulation remain hopeful, though, that innovation will bring the state out of its electricity crunch.

“If you compare this industry restructuring with what happened in telecommunications, it was in the early 80s that they started that process it wasn’t until the mid to late 90s that the Internet really took off and it was only recently that the internet has gone mobile,” said Stratus Energy Group’s Mark Bruce. “That same kind of change is possible with the way we use energy but its going to take time and investment to get there.”


  • Even after 10 years of electricity deregulation in Texas there are still a large amount of Texans that don’t exercise their power to choose a competitive Texas electricity provider. That is a big reason why Texas electricity deregulation is oftentimes blamed for not working. However, we have very competitive electricity rates if only individuals will take the initiative to shop around. A great alternative for businesses and homeowners is using a company like National Energy Brokers ( http://www.nationalenergy.net ) that does the work for you in locating the lowest Texas electricity rates.

    • ChristinaBerg

      No, companies offer cheaper rates but there is a gotcha, besides a company cannot really offer a lower price if they don’t own the delivery route or node.

      • you have no clue about what you say. This lower price refers to generation charge. Delivery is still paid to the incumbent provider.

        • Sugar Land Elf

          As someone who spent 28 years in the electric utility business, I think I certainly know what I’m talking about. The REP’s have built a real can of worms around their sales of electricity. One kwh is not really any different than the other. But with the fees and additional charges, then add claims of prices, then the consumer gets buried in verbal spaghetti when trying to make a comparison. I suppose the lawyers and marketers like it that way. The more you confuse people, the more they end up paying with all the contract gotchas. Electricity in Southwest Texas should definitely be lower in winter because demand is lower, and higher in summer. The TDSP’s (distribution companies) aren’t playing the pricing game. Their distribution charges are still regulated. When ERCOT and the Commission allow peak load pricing up to $9000.00 per megawatt, then the public is being taken for a ride. That happens to be about 300 times the normal base load price or 150 times summer load pricing.

  • Amy Blryl

    Give even stupid people a break

    All deregulation has done is put a middle man in the process.. These so called providers do nothing but figure out how to get state sales taxes along with there fees for doing nothing. I can only assume that is why they were created, Texans need to be Texans and th5W the whole corrupt group out of this state of TexS.

    • You assume too much which makes an ass out of you not me. Having said this you are the one who may be stupid, as you don’t have a clue as to what you are talking about. Sounds like “ole I’m so sad that I’m paying too much for my electricity so I will just bitch about it without knowing what deregulation is all about.”

      • Charlene H

        but you’ve added nothing to the discussion so what’s the point of your post? if you know what deregulation is all about, then spill it.

  • Kevin E

    What is going on behind the scenes? Why would middlemen get rates from the actual energy providers that were low enough to justify their existence? Does the government force lower wholesale rates or is it some tax initiative? Why would what used to be Houston Lighting and Power would just volunteer lower rates for services they spent millions on development and infrastructure just so some pyramid scheme middleman could come in and make a buck? How is that actual “Competition?” Competition would be new energy providers investing in new supply and infrastructure and that’s not what we have in most of the states where “deregulation” occurred. It’s more fingers in the proverbial pudding and it stinks.

    • Charlene H

      do you buy absolutely everything you own from the supplier?

      your clothes direct from the manufacturer? your food direct from the farmer? your vehicle directly from the Ford plant?

  • johncoby

    I DID shop around. It isn’t as easy as some think. http://bayareahouston.blogspot.com/2014/03/recapping-process-of-choosing.html

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