Why The Lights Don’t Go Out When You Switch Electricity Providers

Some Texans are afraid of the dark, fearing that their power will be disconnected if they try to switch retail electricity providers. This is one of the many misconceptions surrounding the electricity industry when legislators decided to deregulate the market in 1999 in favor of a more competitive approach that allows the majority of Texans to choose their electric providers.

Who Does What

To understand why the lights don’t go out when you switch providers, you must first understand everyone’s role in the market. When deregulation went into effect in 2002, three distinct types of companies were formed within the Texas electricity market:

  1. Power generation companies
  2. Transmission and distribution service providers (TDSPs)
  3. Retail electric providers (REPs)

Power generation companies create energy through a variety of methods involving coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind, water and solar. End users don’t interact with generation businesses.

Transmission and distribution companies are responsible for maintaining the poles and wires that get electricity to your house. Whenever you have a power outage, you call the TDSP that services your area.

There are five TDSPs within competitive retail areas in Texas: Centerpoint, TNMP, Nueces, Oncor and AEP. Their respective territories are mapped out below. Texans do not get to choose which TDSP services their homes or businesses.

Texas-TDSP-Map-oncor-centerpoint

Map from the Texas Office of Public Utility Counsel

Electric providers sell electricity to the end users (residential and commercial) and handle customer service and billing. The majority of Texans have the option to choose which provider they purchase energy from.

Providers don’t physically control when power is turned on at a residence and when it is disconnected, but they do communicate with the other industry players to help facilitate these actions.

That said, electric providers are able to request that a customer’s TDSP disconnect service for a variety of reasons that are outlined by the PUC. But not one of those reasons for disconnections has to do with switching electric providers.

Why Your Power Can Get Shut Off

Here are a few reasons why your electricity can get disconnected:

  • Failure to pay
  • Using service in a manner that interferes with the service of others or the operation of nonstandard equipment
  • Where service is connected without authority by a person who has not made application for service
  • Where service is reconnected without authority after disconnection for nonpayment
  • Where there has been tampering with the equipment of the transmission and distribution utility, municipally-owned utility, or electric cooperative
  • Where there is evidence of theft of service

For a complete list, visit the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) website.

If the PUC allowed TDSPs to shut off power every time a customer switched, no one would switch electric providers anymore – defeating the whole purpose of deregulating the market.

Why Your Lights Don’t Go Off

While the PUC regulates the entire Texas electric industry, they created a special set of mandates that requires TDSPs to treat all customers and retail electric providers fairly. That means that Centerpoint, TNMP, Nueces, Oncor and AEP can’t choose to shut off your electricity because they don’t like you or your electric provider.

Here are the words straight from the PUC website PowerToChoose.org:

“Your choice of REP does not affect the reliability of your transmission and distribution service or how quickly your power will be restored following an outage caused by a storm or other event. The PUC continues to regulate TDSPs by setting the rates for transmission and distribution service, setting reliability and safety standards, and ensuring that all customers and REPs are treated the same when it comes to the delivery of electricity to your home or business.”

Bottom line: Your lights don’t go out when you switch electric providers because it’s against the law.

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