HBA-ALS H.B. 3726 76(R) BILL ANALYSIS Office of House Bill AnalysisH.B. 3726 By: Bailey State Affairs 4/9/1999 Introduced BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE The purpose of this bill is to ensure that consumers are protected under any restructuring of the electric industry of Texas. H.B.3726 sets forth the rights and protections of electric energy consumers and electric industry workers relating to equal opportunity and equitable treatment of customers, the provision of universal service to residential consumers, customer privacy, customer billing, change of providers, service disconnections and supplier terminations, credit and collections practices, marketing practices, metering, and disputes. This bill also sets forth standards that must be established by the Texas Natural Resource and Conservation Commission (TNRCC) relating to the emissions of pollution, mercury, and other hazardous substances. This bill sets forth rules for labor protections and workforce impact plans and requires TNRCC to enforce and adopt rules and orders under this chapter. In addition, this bill allows damages and equitable relief to be awarded to customers for violations of this chapter. RULEMAKING AUTHORITY It is the opinion of the Office of House Bill Analysis that rulemaking authority is expressly delegated to the Public Utility Commission of Texas in SECTION 1 (Sections 42.001, 42.002, 42.003, 42.024, 42.025, 42.027, 42.030, 42.072, 42.073, Utilities Code), and to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission in SECTION 1 (Sections 42.052 and 42.054, Utilities Code). SECTION BY SECTION ANALYSIS SECTION 1. Amends Subtitle B, Title 2, Utilities Code, by adding Chapter 42, as follows: CHAPTER 42. RIGHTS AND PROTECTION OF ELECTRIC ENERGY CONSUMERS AND ELECTRIC INDUSTRY WORKERS SUBCHAPTER A. EQUAL OPPORTUNITY Sec. 42.001. EQUAL OPPORTUNITY FOR BENEFITS OF DEREGULATION. (a) Requires the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) to ensure each utility treats each class of its customers equitably and fairly as the utility implements laws and rules that deregulate the electric industry. (b) Requires PUC, by rule, to ensure that service choices and discount rates are available to all customers and classes of customers of the utility, a captive residential customer does not pay any part of a cost that is avoided by another customer or customer class, and consumers have a broadened array of services. Specifies the types of service that are to be included. Sec. 42.002. REIMBURSEMENT FOR PARTICIPATION. Requires PUC, by rule, to provide for reimbursement for active participation in commission proceedings by a nonprofit corporation or a low-income consumer group. Sec. 42.003. UNIVERSAL SERVICE. Requires PUC, by rule, to ensure that a utility offers to residential electric energy consumers, including persons with low incomes, an affordable basic electric service package. SUBCHAPTER B. CONSUMER PROTECTIONS Sec. 42.021. CUSTOMER PRIVACY. (a) Prohibits a person that distributes or supplies electric energy to a customer from releasing information about the customer to any other person without the customer's written permission. Authorizes a customer that provides written permission to revoke the permission at any time. (b) Authorizes a person that distributes or supplies electric energy to customers to release to another person information regarding its customer base if the information does not disclose information about an individual customer. (c) Authorizes a person that distributes or supplies electric energy to customers to reveal information concerning an individual customer to a law enforcement agency or a consumer credit collection agency, notwithstanding Subsection (a) and as otherwise provided by law. Sec. 42.022. CUSTOMER BILLING. (a) Requires a distributor or supplier of electric energy to offer to its customers a deferred payment plan and a billing plan allowing for equal monthly payments. (b) Requires a distributor or supplier of electric energy to provide specified information on the face of its bills for services. Sec. 42.023. COST SHIFTING; REGULATORY REMEDY. (a) Prohibits a distributor or supplier of electric energy from charging a class of customers for transmission or distribution service in an amount that exceeds the class's pro rata share of the distributor's or supplier's costs of transmission or distribution. (b) Requires PUC, if a distributor or supplier's rate differential between residential and industrial customers exceeds three percent, to adjust access charges to achieve a differential of no more than three percent. Sec. 42.024. CHANGE OF PROVIDER. Requires PUC, by rule, to set standards for contracts between a customer and the persons who provide electric energy to the customer. Provides that the standards must provide that the contract may not prohibit the customer from changing to another provider but may provide for clearly stated penalties under the contract for making a change of providers. Sec. 42.025. SERVICE DISCONNECTIONS AND SUPPLIER TERMINATIONS. (a) Requires PUC, by rule, to provide for protections for consumers designed to prevent an unreasonable distribution service disconnection or an unreasonable supply termination. (b) Prohibits a distributor or supplier of electric energy from disconnecting or terminating a customer's electric service without adequate notice to the customer or for the customer's failure to pay for any service besides the supply of electric energy or the failure of the customer's lessor to pay for service. (c) Prohibits a distributor or supplier of electric energy from disconnecting or terminating the electric service of a customer who gives the distributor or supplier a doctor's written notice that a medical emergency requires continued service or that disconnection or termination of electric service would cause a medical emergency. Sec. 42.026. CREDIT AND COLLECTION PRACTICES. (a) Requires a distributor of electric energy that bills for a supplier of electric energy to allocate a customer's partial payment of an amount due primarily to services regulated by the regulatory authority and authorize the distributor to apply the partial payment that remains to satisfy the amounts owed for the unregulated services. (b) Prohibits a retail supplier of electric energy from refusing to grant a prospective customer credit on application in contravention of the terms of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. (c) Prohibits a retail supplier of electric energy from requiring from a prospective customer a deposit of more than the amount of the customer's anticipated bills for the first two months of service. Sec. 42.027. MARKETING PRACTICES. (a) Requires PUC, by rule, to prohibit slamming and cramming; gifts to customers or prospective customers that exceed the value of $50 from a distributor or supplier of electricity; and misleading advertising. (b) Requires PUC to require a distributor or supplier of electric energy to bill customers accurately and understandably; supply customers with essential information and disclosures expressed clearly in plain English and Spanish; and meet standards relating to service quality and customer service, including the installation and repair of equipment related to services. Sec. 42.028. METERING. Requires a distributor of electric energy to provide a standard meter at no cost to a customer at a location that the distributor has not previously served. Authorizes a customer to purchase, lease, or install a different meter without a penalty. Provides that a meter must measure time-of-use. Prohibits a distributor of electric energy from requiring a customer to use a prepayment meter. Sec. 42.029. DISPUTES. (a) Requires a distributor or supplier of electric energy to make a dispute resolution process available to customers that will protect the interests of the customers. Prohibits the process from requiring the arbitration of a dispute payment of an amount in dispute for the customer to participate in the process. (b) Prohibits a distributor or supplier from disconnecting or terminating service to a customer while a dispute is pending. Sec. 42.030. CUSTOMER AGGREGATION. (a) Requires PUC, by rule, to encourage the creation of entities to represent aggregations of customers and other means of customer aggregation, including new municipal electric systems, franchise contracts, community choice aggregation, and cooperative buying clubs. (b) Requires PUC to make consumers aggregated by a nonprofit aggregation eligible to control money collected for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. SUBCHAPTER C. POLLUTION STANDARDS Sec. 42.051. AIR CONTAMINANTS STANDARDS. (a) Requires the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) to require all electric generation facilities to meet standards for the emission of air contaminants per kilowatt-hour of electric energy generated. (b) Requires TNRCC to establish limitations on the amount of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide emitted by an electric generation facility with which each facility is required to comply on or before January 1, 2005. (c) Requires TNRCC to decrease the limitation on carbon dioxide in equal steps each year so that in the year 2010 not more than 380 million tons of carbon dioxide may be emitted for the generation of electricity. Sec. 42.052. STANDARDS FOR MERCURY. Requires TNRCC, by rule, to provide for the elimination of the use, production, or disposal of mercury by a generator of electricity not later than January 1, 2010. Sec. 42.053. STANDARDS FOR RADIOACTIVE WASTE. Requires TNRCC to provide a standard for nuclear power generation of electric energy that will reduce the amount of radiation produced radioactive waste from that process by two percent each year for high-level radioactive waste and five percent each year for low-level radioactive waste. Sec. 42.054. STANDARDS FOR OTHER HAZARDOUS SUBSTANCES. Requires TNRCC, by rule, to provide for the reduction each year of hazardous substances produced in the generation of electric energy. SUBCHAPTER D. PROTECTIONS OF LABOR Sec. 42.071. RECOVERABLE COSTS. Requires PUC to permit a utility to recover the costs of a program that provides for voluntary employee severance, job retraining for employees, early retirement of employees, continuing health care for employees, outplacement of former employees, and related benefits. Sec. 42.072. WORKFORCE IMPACT PLAN. Requires PUC, by rule, to require a utility to submit a plan for the utility to mitigate the negative effects on its employees of any workforce reduction. Sec. 42.073. CONTRACT CONSISTENCY. Requires PUC, by rule, to permit a change in the ownership of a facility that generates electric energy unless the owner of the facility agrees to employ the workers at the facility at similar wage rates and benefits and subject to any labor union contract in effect. SUBCHAPTER E. ENFORCEMENT Sec. 42.091. STATE AGENCY ACTION. Requires TNRCC to enforce this chapter and rules adopted and orders issued under this chapter. Sec. 42.092. CUSTOMER DAMAGES. Provides that a customer injured by a violation of this chapter, a rule, or order has a cause of action against the violator for damages or for equitable relief. Entitles a customer who prevails in a suit filed under this section to recover attorneys' fees and court costs. SECTION 2. Emergency clause. Effective date: upon passage.