Dallas: Latest electircity deregulation delay linked to computer problems

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Latest deregulation delay linked to computer problems 07/19/2001

By Steven H. Lee / The Dallas Morning News

The state's electric utility industry put a positive spin on the latest delay in implementing a pilot program in which almost 85,000 households have signed up to switch providers.

Texas electricity deregulation program delayed Special report: Deregulating electricity

Extra content index But a consumer group warned that customers and competitors could start to lose faith in the Texas market before electric deregulation takes hold for good on Jan. 1.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, the industry group that manages the state's power grid, now says computer problems will push the pilot's start date to July 31 two months past the original target of June 1.

It marks the third delay, as officials previously pushed back the start to July 6 and then to this Friday. Under the pilot, up to 5 percent of customers of investor-owned electric utilities can switch service to competitors.

On Wednesday, the utility industry said the delays actually indicate that the pilot process is working, because the program's intent is to test the computerized system that allows for switching of customers.

"This has always been a phased-in approach, rather than meeting these arbitrary deadlines," said ERCOT spokeswoman Jennifer Taylor.

Added TXU Corp. spokesman Chris Schein, "You have to understand that we're creating something new here. We anticipated all along that we would encounter some issues."

Consumer advocate Janee Briesemeister said she believes that point hasn't been sufficiently made to customers who've signed up to switch providers and expected service by the announced dates.

"I don't think the customers knew that the dates were arbitrary," said Ms. Briesemeister, senior policy analyst with the Consumers Union regional office in Austin.

About 750 customers already have been switched in order to test the central computer system in Austin in advance of the pilot.

Officials say problems still need to be remedied in the processes of settlement or the assigning of wholesale costs to market participants and billing of customers, as well as communicating service-change orders to the central facility.

"We are extremely close," said ERCOT chief operating officer Sam Jones. "We were very, very disappointed that we didn't make that July 20 start-up date. But we would rather be right than fast."


-- Carl Jenkins (somewherepress@aol.com), July 25, 2001

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