The Wholesale Level
While electric utility industry deregulation at the retail level has garnered much attention in 1997, the move toward competition at the wholesale level began more than two years ago. In May 1995, the Texas Legislature passed a bill to restructure the Texas wholesale electric industry. The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) conducted hearings to implement the Legislaturefs mandate to develop rules for wholesale transmission services, rates and access within the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
Insight on ERCOT
Although membership is voluntary, ERCOT is composed of representatives from electric power producers throughout Texas, including investor-owned utilities, independent power producers, power marketers, cooperatives, municipalities, and river authorities. ERCOTfs service area encompasses more than 200,000 square miles and includes 14,725,000 customers.
ERCOT is one of 10 North American Electric Reliability Councils (NERCs) in the United States, Canada and Mexico. NERC is an organization formed by the electric utility industry to promote standards for the reliable operation of the nationfs electricity system.
The Role of the ISO
Rules established by the PUCT in Feb. 1996 required utilities to provide unbundled transmission services to wholesalers. The PUC also approved plans to establish an independent system operator (ISO) for ERCOT. Utilities within the ERCOT region – in collaboration with other wholesale market participants – were required to establish an ISO that allowed equal participation by all market participants.
In June 1997, the new ERCOT structure was established and the ISO implemented. In addition to ensuring equal participation, the ERCOT ISO is responsible for managing a statewide electronic information network (the Electronic Transmission Information Network), ensuring reliability of the power grid, ordering changes in utility operation to allow wholesale power transactions to occur, and providing access to information on pricing and availability of transmission and supplementary services.
The Retail Level
Although no laws enacting a path to full customer choice were passed, deregulation at the retail level was a key issue during the 1997 Legislative Session. A bill was pre-filed with the Texas Legislature to create a Council on Electric Industry Restructuring that would conduct a study on deregulation in Texas. The proposed study included an assessment of service reliability and the economic benefits and challenges associated with retail access.
The PUCT collected information for reports to the Legislature before its Jan. 1997 session. The electric utility industry competition and restructuring studies totaled more than 900 pages, including a 200-page report on stranded costs. Costs are referred to as "stranded" because they may not be recoverable in a competitive electricity marketplace. The amount of stranded costs in Texas and how they will be recovered has not been determined. The recovery of past investments will be a key part of the restructuring process.
The PUCTfs Proposal
In its report to the Legislature, the PUCT recommended against any proposals introducing retail access before 2000. The PUCT urged lawmakers to "take a deliberate approach" toward restructuring. According to the PUCT, a phased-in approach would enable Texas to learn from other states, evaluate benefits and challenges and reduce the level of potentially stranded costs.
The PUCTfs commissioners recommended customers be allowed to continue electric service with their current supplier in a competitive environment and public schools and other public groups be chosen as the first to have direct access.
The Bush Bill
In May 1997, Governor George Bush became involved in the restructuring issue when he declared that "now is the time to open the Texas electricity market" to competition. His compromise agreement bill called for Texans to be able to choose their electricity supplier beginning Sept. 1, 2001.
The bill included a 10 percent residential rate reduction over a three-year period and a rate freeze for large industrial customers until 2001. In addition, the statefs largest utilities would be entitled to full recovery of their stranded costs. Utilizing a method called securitization, the state would pay utilities up front for the costs with proceeds from state-backed bonds retired by customers. Although Texasf investor-owned utilities backed the measure, the statefs rural electric cooperatives failed to support the plan. They said that they did not have adequate time to analyze the effects of such a major bill. As a result, the measure did not pass.
Recent Deregulation Developments
Several efforts to restructure the electric utility industry in Texas have been undertaken since the Legislature adjourned its regular session in June 1997:
Copyright (c) 1999 Reliant