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Texas Consumer Advocates: Connection Between Substantive Rule Low-Income Protections And SBF, "Practical, Not Statutory"; Says Elimination of Protections Contrary To Statute

September 26, 2017

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

Texas ROSE (Ratepayers' Organization to Save Energy) and Texas Legal Services Center (TLSC) filed comments with the Texas PUC opposing the elimination of several customer protections currently in the substantive rules for customers who were eligible for the prior Lite-Up Texas discount program (funded by the defunct System Benefit Fund)

As previously reported, a strawman proposal would eliminate the following benefits available to Lite-Up customers:

• Prohibition on charging late fees under PUC Substantive Rule §25.480(b).

• Ability to pay a security deposit in two monthly installments under PUC Substantive Rule §25.478(e)(3).

• Eligibility for deferred payment plans during weather emergencies and times of the year when bills are high. See Substantive Rule §25.480(j)(2).

• Eligibility for level and average payment plans under Substantive Rule §25.480(j)(2)

• First priority in Commission distribution of funds for deposit payment assistance under Substantive Rule §25.107(f)(6)(A)(i).

"The existence or termination of the System Benefit Fund have nothing to do with the customer protection rules adopted by the commission to make electricity more accessible to low-income customers. The connection between the rate discount and the customer protection rules is practical, not statutory," ROSE and TLSC said

"The recipients of the rate discount, already identified for retail electric providers (REPs), was used as a proxy to identify low income customers for customer protection standards. At the time retail electric competition began in Texas, the PUC created the LIDA (Low Income Discount Administrator) as a method to identify customers that are income eligible for bill discounts. As customer protection rules were amended to resolve low income customer issues in the new market the rules logically and practically applied to those identified by LIDA. Instead of making relatively minor changes to the process for identifying low income customers, the proposed amendments to the customer protection rules simply delete the low income protections. That is, the proposed amendments throw the 'baby out with the bathwater,'" ROSE and TLSC said

"At the time the customer protection rules were promulgated, there was a consensus that no reason existed to try and find another way to identify low-income customers because the Low-Income Discount Administrator was already identifying the most vulnerable customer population," ROSE and TLSC said

"The rules mentioned above have no real connection to the System Benefit Fund. The only connection is that at the time the rules were promulgated, the PUC recognized the convenience and practicality of using the rate discount program as a method of identifying customers eligible for the minimum levels of service needed for low income customers to obtain and maintain electricity," ROSE and TLSC said

"The fact that rules merely reference the System Benefit Fund as a method to identify low income customers does not justify the termination of the rules with the termination of the System Benefit Fund," ROSE and TLSC said

"The rate discount program is connected to the rules only because it was seen as the most direct and cost effective option for identifying eligible customers. It is irrational and contrary to the plain language of H.B. 1101 to conclude that the customer protection rules should be amended because the program used to identify low income customers funded by the System Benefit Fund has been terminated," ROSE and TLSC said

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