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AARP to Governor: Prevent Dangerous Disconnections

In the upcoming weeks, the Public Utility Commission will make a decision about a controversial “switch-block” rule (Project # 36131) which AARP maintains is anti-competitive and would endanger the health and well-being of Texans by preventing electricity customers who have been disconnected from establishing service with new providers in a timely manner.

AARP Texas State Director Bob Jackson sent the following letter to Gov. Rick Perry on Aug. 26 noting that adoption of the provision would “make Texas government the enforcer and bill collector on behalf of retail electric providers”.

Dear Governor Perry:

I am appealing for your help on behalf of Texas seniors and other affected Texans.

The unelected members of the Public Utility Commission are poised to approve a policy that should be stopped, and as your appointees, only you can stop them.

Next Wednesday, the PUC is scheduled to adopt a rule in Project 36131. The proposed rule contains a “switch-block” provision that makes Texas government the enforcer and bill collector on behalf of retail electric providers. If this rule is adopted, a retail electric provider will be able to prevent consumers from switching to another retail electric provider.

This is wrong on so many levels:

First, the plain language of the utility statute protects a customer’s right to choose and grants the PUC only the authority to regulate electricity providers in the public interest. The PUC does not have the authority to regulate the behavior of consumers. Unelected bureaucrats, including the Public Utility Commissioners, should not grab power that has not been granted to them by legislative action or the Texas Constitution.

Second, while AARP continues to believe that electric deregulation has failed to keep its promises to consumers, even if the PUC has clear authority to adopt this policy, it is a bad idea because blocking customers from switching is anathema to the very essence of deregulation. Moreover, it directly contradicts the right to choose electric providers much touted by the agency. Please note that in its official comments, Reliant Energy, the second largest retail electric provider in Texas, has objected to this market interference just as has AARP.

Third, a switch block provision will endanger the health and well-being of Texans. Households disconnected from electricity will be prevented from re-establishing service with new providers. Longer periods of disconnection will put Texas seniors at risk of heat-related illness and even death. What would currently be a 24 hour loss of electricity could turn into 5, 10 or more days. Given Texas’ extreme weather, this is dangerous and reckless. Payment plans that have historically helped financially squeezed electric customers "keep the lights on" will be poisoned by allowing retail electric companies to hold these struggling customers captive and subjecting them to dangerously long disconnections.

Governor, I am confident that you do not wish to see government authority extended in this fashion. I urge you to rein in these appointees. AARP, and all right-minded Texans, will appreciate your efforts.

Very truly yours,

Robert A. Jackson
AARP Texas Senior State Director

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