Ann de Rouffignac
HOUSTON, Jan. 2, 2001 — On the first full day of the newly competitive electricity market in Texas, some retailers said they were swamped with calls from prospective customers.
Competition is largely confined to the metropolitan areas of Houston and Dallas and some parts of South Texas. Huge swaths of the state, including largely rural parts of West and East Texas, will not be participating. Austin and San Antonio are not required to participate since they are served by municipal utilities.
“We were swamped with calls,” said Tammy McNeely, sales associate with Entergy Solutions, the retail affiliate of Entergy Corp., a New Orleans-based utility holding company.
TXU Energy, the retail subsidiary of TXU Corp., Dallas, has been “inundated” with calls, said spokesman John Walls.
Calls to other retailers offering electric service in Reliant Energy Inc.’s Houston territory were not answered and hold periods of 20 min or more were common.
For persons moving to a new address, getting service could take a few days longer than before, due to an additional step required under deregulation.
Davis Beshear, a spokesman for TXU Electric & Gas, the transmission and distribution subsidiary of TXU Corp., said market participants agreed 7 business days would be the maximum time allowable under the new regime.
“In the past it took 3 to 5 business days,” Beshear said. “In reality it was much quicker than that. But we really aren’t sure how long it will take. We will try to get it done as fast as possible.”
Extra step required
Reliant Energy said the delay involves notifying the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which was not involved in the process before, of a customer’s decision to move or switch suppliers and the time it takes for the grid operator to process the information.
“We are finding these kinds of problems are coming up,” said Carol Biedrzycki, executive director of the Texas Ratepayers Organization to Save Energy, a consumer advocacy group. “This move-in move-out process was not tested in the pilot. This is one of the reasons we favored continuing the pilot instead of opening the market on Jan. 1.”
Jim Burke, vice-president of Reliant Energy Residential Services, said ERCOT didn’t focus on how to switch customers who were moving. “We are really debugging this process,” he said.
Biedrzycki said the new system is affecting people who aren’t participating in the competitive market. Problems will occur with a system created under deadline pressure, she said. Electric companies are transferring customer records from the regulated utilities to their unregulated affiliates in batches of 80,000 nightly. Burke said Reliant will have completed the records transfer by Feb. 5. For recordkeeping purposes, he said customers who move during January will be treated as if they were new to Reliant.
Heather Tindall, an ERCOT spokeswoman, had no information about delays in getting service started for customers who are changing addresses. “Questions about this have not come up so far,” she said.
The Texas market opened Jan. 1 after a 6-month pilot program fraught with computer glitches and other problems. Consumer advocates wanted the full opening to be delayed until the pilot had functioned longer. But the Public Utility Commission approved the full market opening after concluding all systems were ready.
During the pilot, 85,000 customers were switched to new providers, said Tindall. ERCOT received 20,500 more requests for switching between Dec. 17 and Dec. 31, she said. There are 5.7 million meters in the ERCOT service area.
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