When Texas deregulated its electricity market in 2002, the Texas Public Utility Commission set out to protect consumers by establishing rules that standardized bills. But while these rules required retail energy providers to put term and conditions in “plain language,” it’s easy for Texas electricity consumers to get confused. With the Texas Electricity Terms series, we will examine common features of the Texas electricity market and clear up areas where plain language can sometimes seem a little misleading. We will also highlight key places where consumers need to pay closer attention.
Provider of Last Resort
The term “Provider of Last Resort” is often referred to as “POLR.” But what does this term mean? Basically, if your Retail Electric Provider (REP) decides to cease its operations in Texas, you won’t be left in the dark. Your services will be transferred to a default REP for your area that handles all customers affected by situations like this, and this company is designated by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas.
Sometimes, a POLR is an affiliate of the local utility company, but not always. In either case, the POLR for your service area will provide you temporary relief so you have the chance to select another REP for your home. The Electricity Facts Label (EFL) for each POLR in Texas can be found at the PUC of Texas website, including past rates for comparison.
What is the Smart Meters Fee?
The “Smart Meters Fee” or the Advanced Metering System (AMS) Surcharge was enacted in 2005 to authorize electric delivery companies (also know as the utility company for your area) to assess a surcharge to recover the costs of deploying Smart Meters in Texas. The fee is passed to you directly through to your REP without markup.
Smart meters represent a substantial service improvement over the old analog meters:
- Smart meters provide readings remotely to the utility company for your area and your REP.
- If you move your electricity service to a new home, the smart meter at your old residence can be turned off and the meter at your new home can be turned on remotely, reducing new service wait times.
- There’s no need for the utility company to send someone to read your meter. This reduces utility operating costs and reduces your rates.
- Smart meters instantly report outage information for each home, allowing utilities to fix the problem much quicker.
- Smart meters can be accessed through Internet of Things (IoT) technology to provide you with detailed information on how you use electricity.
How much is the monthly Smart Meter Fee?
This fee varies depending on the utility company that services your area, so check the energy plans of your REP. According to PUC records, monthly fee amounts vary from as little as $1.25 (TNMP) to $4.31 (Sharyland). In 2015, Centerpoint discontinued charging the fee in Houston, but continues to charge it in other localities.
What if I don’t want a Smart Meter?
You are still permitted to have an analog meter at your home (termed “non-standard meter”) instead of a smart meter. However, the local utility is permitted to assess fees to recover the costs associated with installing and using an analog meter. Apart from the installation charge, a monthly analog meter reading fee can run from $25 or more.
In the next installment of the Texas Electricity Terms series, we discuss “What Happens When?” regarding late fees, disconnection / reconnection fees, and early termination fee.