Dallas rates have soared since deregulation

HOUSTON, TEXAS - A new report that finds electricity deregulation leads to higher prices has kicked up a recurring debate on whether Texas consumers are better off under market forces.

The Cities Aggregation Power Project, or CAPP, released a report that describes the history of deregulation in Texas, from passage of the deregulation bill in 1999 to the present.

The group, which negotiates power prices on behalf of cities, concludes that Texans pay more than the national average for power, and that prices here have risen faster than any other state with retail electricity competition.

Wholesale power companies have manipulated the market, and the grid operator is having problems with the transition to competiton, resulting in higher fees, the report states.

"The absence of regulation does not make competition," said Kristen Doyle, a lawyer and lobbyist for CAPP. "We're trying to move from a deregulated market to a competitive market."

The CAPP report is one of several on meant to sway Texas lawmakers on deregulation this session.

Others show that prices would have been higher under a regulated market.

David Sibley, a former state senator who helped write the deregulation laws, said the market is working.

"What we tried to do was, we said we were going to shift the risk over to companies from the consumer," he said. That way, "slothful" power companies aren't guaranteed a profit at ratepayers' expense.

Customers no longer pay to build power plants. Instead, generators pay for their own plants and only turn a profit when they start selling power.

Sibley, who now lobbies for the electricity industry, pointed out that the CAPP study only shows electricity prices through 2007, the latest data available from the Department of Energy. But in the past year, electricity prices have declined as natural gas prices have dropped.

The study doesn't recommend reregulation but calls for rules that, CAPP says, would make the market more competitive. CAPP suggests fixing transmission constraints to eliminate some of the opportunity for companies with large market shares to abuse their power. It also calls once again for laws to make it easier to negotiate power prices for big groups of consumers.

The report draws on public records and media reports, including stories in The Dallas Morning News and a report on the buyout of TXU Corp. commissioned by The News in 2007.

Doyle, the CAPP lobbyist, said lawmakers haven't yet taken up the cause of deregulation this session. She expects to find representatives willing to propose legislation.


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