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Sponsor Of Texas Bill Creating Voluntary Low-Income Sync List For REPs Says PUCT Authorization To Mandate REPs Fund Special Low-Income Protections Ended With SBF Termination

September 8, 2017

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Copyright 2010-17 EnergyChoiceMatters.com
Reporting by Paul Ring • ring@energychoicematters.com

Texas State Rep. Chris Paddie, who sits on the State Affairs committee and sponsored SB 1976, which allows the Public Utility Commission of Texas, upon the request and funding by REPs, to develop a list of low-income electric customers, said in a letter to the PUCT that SB 1976 was not intended to mandate that REPs be compelled to use the list to continue providing the various low-income protections on an unreimbursed basis

Under the PUCT rules as currently in effect, REPs must offer deferred/level payment plans, deposit installments, and waived late fees to low-income customers who qualify for the Lite-Up discount program, which has expired. A strawman has proposed striking these obligations for REPs from the rules.

"It has come to my attention that there has been some question of the legislative intent and effect of SB 1976 as part of your rulemaking process to implement this new law. To the extent that there is pressure for the Commission to extend unfunded mandates in its current rules onto competitive market participants, let me assure you that was not the intent of SB 1976," Paddie wrote.

"To the extent the legislative record is unclear, please accept this letter as clarification of the law's intent and effect," Paddie wrote.

"As a result of HB 7 from the 83rd Legislature and HB 1101 from the 84th Legislature, all authorization for the Commission to identify low-income customers was scheduled to expire on August 31, 2017," Paddie wrote.

"Along with that expiration went the Commission's rules requiring special service requirements for low-income customers," Paddie wrote.

"SB 1976 did not change that result," Paddie wrote

While Paddie cited the above legislation which ceased the PUCT's authorization to identify low-income customers, Paddie did not cite specific legislative authorization upon which the PUCT's special low-income service requirements were adopted (e.g. not authorization for the list itself), and did not expound on how such authorization has specifically been rescinded by the legislature

Rather, Paddie wrote, "What SB 1976 did was to create an opportunity for retail electric providers and certificated telecommunications utilities to efficiently provide voluntary benefits to low-income customers for whom the mandated service requirements would no longer exist. It is consistent with the policies of this State to encourage competitive solutions above regulatory solutions, and I am proud that SB 1976 helped to fill a looming gap in service for vulnerable customers with free market dynamics that I hope will result in new and better services for low-income electric and telecommunications customers."

"It is true that SB 1976 forbids the Commission from requiring retail electric providers and certificated telecommunications utilities to take on unreimbursed costs created by special rule provisions for low-income customers (See SB 1976, Section 1, creating Utilities Code § 17.007(c)). Importantly, this provision is intended to support the provision of low-income benefits, and is essential to supporting the development of voluntary services enabled by the bill by eliminating regulatory risk that would have otherwise served as a disincentive and impediment to the development of such benefits on a voluntary and competitive basis. Also important is that SB 1976 does not forbid the Commission from utilizing the identification of qualified low-income customers for its own purposes to support that customer population -- it merely ensures that competitive market participants will not bear the costs (directly or indirectly) of any such policies," Paddie wrote

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