Power lines in southeast Houston neighborhood. Photo by Dave Fehling.
During a meeting of the Texas Public Utility Commission, its former chairman, Barry Smitherman, gave Texans one more reason to love their state and for others to envy it: low, low prices for electricity.
“If you use the best available price in the market place from a retail electric provider Houston and Dallas have the lowest prices of any big city in America. I think we have to be very mindful of the competitive advantage this gives us here in Texas,” Smitherman said at the PUC meeting.
Strictly speaking, Smitherman might be right: the price of electricity is relatively low. But if you think that means people in Houston and Dallas have the lowest electricity bills, you’d be wrong. The reality is exactly the opposite because Texans use so much electricity.
For several years now, national comparisons using data reported to the federal government and from other sources show people in Houston and Dallas — and in Texas overall — pay some of the highest electricity bills in the country. According to the U.S. Energy Department, “The average annual electricity cost per Texas household is $1,801, among the highest in the nation; the cost is similar to other warm weather states like Florida, according to EIA’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey.”
But drilling deeper into the data, what you pay depends on where you live in Texas.
“We’re about 10 cents per kilowatt hour,” said Paula Gold-Williams, Executive vice president at CPS Energy. CPS Energy is owned by the City of San Antonio. It’s a non-profit company.
“We never are chasing the earnings per share, the quarterly result, that sometimes other businesses have to go after,” Gold-Williams told News 88.7.
CPS sells electricity to San Antonio residents at a price that is 10 to 20 percent cheaper than average advertised rates in Dallas and Houston. In those big cities electricity is sold through dozens of for-profit marketers. It’s a de-regulated system developed by the Texas legislature over a decade ago.
The original idea was that competition would mean lower prices. But a few cities — San Antonio, Austin, and San Marcos among them — did not join the system. In those cities, everyone has to buy their electricity from one, city-owned utility.
In San Antonio, CPS owns its own power plants and has no contracts, no credit requirements, no flexible rate plans.
“So our pricing is simple and straightforward,” said Gold-Williams.
And that’s one of the reasons critics say the de-regulated system should be overhauled to be more like San Antonio’s.
“From where I sit, any changes would be a long shot. A lot of people who are in power right now are very happy with this arrangement,” said Carol Biedrzycki, executive director of the Texas Ratepayers’ Organization to Save Energy.