Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

OpEd

December 6, 2005

Stretching Holiday Dollars through Utility Savings

The cost of natural gas, what is used to heat our homes, has doubled in the past two years, and in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the price will rise even further. The increase in electricity rates is a result of the recent damage to utility infrastructure. However, there are measures we can take to offset these increases, especially when we face holiday spending. My first recommendation is to evaluate your electric provider. Most Texans have the ability to replace their current electric providers and can save up to 20 percent on utility bills by doing so. Finding the least expensive electric provider requires a little research, which can be accomplished by either logging on to www.powertochoose.org or calling 866-797-4839 to obtain rates and areas of service.

Once a decision to change providers is made, a customer can call the electric provider and request to transfer service to them. I caution people to read the terms of service agreement carefully, which should be mailed.

An online search of electric providers in Harlingen, Brownsville, McAllen, San Benito and Edinburg resulted in 15 providers whose average monthly electricity rates vary from $123 to $191. Customers are responsible for seeking the best provider to meet their needs. Residents served by city-owned utilities, such as the Brownsville Public Utilities, and member-owned electric cooperatives may not be able to switch providers.

Additionally, energy conservation is the easiest and least costly way to lower a monthly electric bill. Conserve energy by following a few simple guidelines.

Some electric providers offer programs to assist customers in paying their electric bills. Customers not delinquent on utility bills are often allowed to use an average payment plan by the provider, making the amount about equal each month. This plan is based on previous or estimated electric usage. However enrolling in this plan requires a customer to budget strictly. Exceeding the estimation will require the customer to pay the balance at the end of the year. Other plans include a payment assistance fund for emergencies, an extension on the monthly payment and another program allowing a bill to be paid over an extended period. Details on this information and other plans can be obtained through the provider.

I also encourage people to consider the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs' (TDHCA) Texas Weatherization and Low-Income Energy Programs. The agency offers a review of energy efficiency to households at or below 125% of federal poverty guidelines. They identify inefficiencies in a house and install appropriate weatherization to increase energy efficiency. TDHCA also offers payment assistance through local county organizations if individuals meet certain requirements. More information can be obtained by calling:

Cancellation of Lite-Up Texas, a program that helped low-income customers pay their electric bills, combined with spiraling electric costs, will place a greater burden on many households. I am urging the people of my district and all Texans to conduct the necessary research, implement measures to conserve energy and work with electric providers to utilize all available energy-saving resources. These efforts should help alleviate skyrocketing electric bills this winter.

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0127.

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