New Rules May End Electric Bill Shocks

State regulators want providers to notify customers of rate changes

State regulators are writing new rules to protect Texans from sticker shock when they open their utility bills.

Dallas customers already pay some of the highest combined utility bills in the country, at an average of $380 a month -- nearly $90 more than the national average.

The Texas Public Utility Commission is writing new rules to make sure retail electricity providers notify their customers of rate changes, especially before their fixed-rate contracts expire.

Homeowner Pamela Smith said she knows firsthand how an electric bill can be a surprise. Her December electricity bill was $361.85.

"I was shocked. I was shocked," she said. "I was like, 'Oh, my gosh.'"

Smith's only explanation was her rate must have gone up.

"If there was a change in the rate, I wasn't notified of it," she said.

She said her November bill was $98 and $106 the month before that.

Smith, who lives alone and didn't change her electricity usage, said she couldn't understand why her bill fluctuated so much.

"I don't even go in the other parts of my house," she said. "I come through the garage, I go to the kitchen or in my bedroom, and I was like, 'Why does it keep, you know, escalating?"

Some companies, such as TXU Energy, already notify customers of rate changes.

"From a pricing standpoint, if we're going to change prices for whatever reason, we give a customer ample notices so they can decide, 'OK, I can accept that or, you know what? I want to go shop,'" Tom Stewart, of TXU, said.

The PUC also wants to companies to create a way for customers to find current rates. The commission will meet Jan. 29, when it will likely approve the new regulations.

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