Frequently Asked Questions
What does REP stand for?
Retail Electric Provider. A REP is a company that sells electricity to
you. All Retail Electric Providers must be certified to do business by the
Public Utility Commission of Texas.
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What does TDU stand for?
Transmission and Distribution Utility. The TDU owns the poles, wires, and meters and delivers electricity to your home.
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I live in an area open to electric choice, where do I go to find an electric provider?
What should I know about a REP before I sign up for service?
You should verify the following information and ask the following questions:
1. How long will I be paying this rate?
2. How long will I need to stay with this REP without having a penalty fee?
3. Is the rate going to change? If so, what components of the rate will change?
4. Ask the customer service representative for the REP's PUC certification number.
5. What are the hours for their customer service department?
Do all REPs charge a deposit?
No, not all REPs charge a deposit, but if the REP does charge a deposit and you meet one of the following requirements, then you will not need to pay a deposit:
1. If you are 65 years or older and do not currently owe any money to a REP for electric service.
2. You have been determined to be a victim of family violence by the Office of Attorney General, Office of a Texas District Attorney, or County Attorney, or by a grantee of the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation.
Can I pay the deposit with a guarantee?
Yes, but only if the guarantor is a customer of the REP, has no past due balance, and
has no more than one late payment in a 12-month period during the term of
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How long can the REP hold my deposit?
If you pay your bills on time for 12 consecutive months, the REP must
refund your deposit or provide you a credit on your bill for the amount of
the deposit that you paid.
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Are there any assistance programs available?
Yes. There are many assistance programs available to low-income Texans. More information is available on the Public Utility Commission's website at http://www.puc.state.tx.us/consumer/lowincome/Assistance.aspx.
What does the term “vampire power” mean?
The term “vampire power” refers to the electric power consumed by electronic appliances while they are switched off or in a standby mode. On its own, the "vampire power" used by one device might seem miniscule, but collectively it amounts to more than $4 billion a year of wasted energy here in the United States. What's more, the Department of Energy says that about 75 percent of the electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the products are turned off.
Some examples include:
• Your hand-held vacuum in its charging station.
• Power drills.
• Automatic coffee makers.
• The VCR you haven't used in nearly a decade.
• The TV that's collecting dust in the guest room.
• The empty refrigerator in the garage.
Advanced Metering System (AMS) (a.k.a Smart Meters)
What is AMS?
AMS stands for “advanced metering system.” AMS is an electronic communications system that allows the utility company to communicate with your meter without having to actually stand in front of it. This can be done in many ways. Meters can be read at the meter itself, or remotely either with a wireless device from the street or from the utility’s communications center. The entire AMS may include advanced meters, hardware, software, communications, and other customer-related systems. Different utilities may use different AMS models.
Utilities in other states are currently deploying AMS. For more information on AMS deployment by utilities in other states, please see the following examples:
Southern California Edison http://www.sce.com/CustomerService/smartconnect/
Pacific Gas & Electric http://www.pge.com/smartmeter/
Alabama Power http://www.alabamapower.com/residential/smartmeter.asp
What are advanced meters (or smart meters)?
Most home meters in service in the United States are of the electromechanical type. These are also known as “spinning disc” meters or "dumb meters." They only indicate the energy you use. You, as the customer, only see your usage and price for electricity once a month, when you get your biII. These meters must be read by utility workers each month. If a meter reading cannot be done, your bill is generally estimated by the retail electric provider.
Advanced meters or “smart meters” are of the digital type. They measure electricity use and can provide real-time feedback to you on your electric usage. Smart meters also provide real-time feedback to your electricity provider. With your usage information available to you at all times, you can see the price of your electricity at different times of use. This can help you make decisions to help lower your bill by lowering your energy use. Smart meters can also ensure that your electricity is more reliable by giving utilities insight on power outages or other problems in your neighborhood.
How will smart meters benefit me?
Smart meters can give you detailed information and increased knowledge about how much energy you use and when you use it to help manage your overall energy costs and usage. You can benefit from access to real-time energy use and pricing information.
When large groups of customers are able to lower their energy usage, it can have a positive effect on the entire electric market too. When people are using less energy, the generation companies don’t have to make as much electricity or build as many new electric plants. This means that less electricity is produced and less is transmitted (carried) over the power lines to your home. Both generation and transmission require costs that are factored into your bill. By lowering your usage and keeping those companies’ services to a minimum, it can result in less costs for them and a lower bill for you.
Other customer benefits related to smart meters include:
Customers have more control over their electric bills.
Switching to a new retail electric provider (REP) is easier. The wait time between REPs is shortened to days instead of weeks. The PUC requires that utilities and REPs must complete customer switches in 5 days or less.
Utilities can detect power outages and can restore power more quickly.
Meter reads, connections, and disconnections can be performed remotely, resulting in faster service for customers.
TOU customers know when to reduce usage during higher pricing periods or in conditions when electricity generation might be limited.
Customers see bill savings and environmental benefits when utilities save on operating costs and cut down their impact on the environment.
Customers see more reliable service if utilities can better manage their response to customer usage demands.
If you are a customer in an electric choice area and want to learn more about accessing the energy usage information from your smart meter, please visit the SmartMeter Texas web portal at www.smartmetertexas.com.
What is time-of-use (TOU) pricing and how might it benefit me?
Some retail electric providers will provide for TOU pricing. If you choose to be a TOU customer, being more proactive by changing when you do certain things (based on the price of electricity at a certain time of the day) may help lower your electric bill.
By doing certain things, such as washing clothes or cooking, at different times of the day, you may save money if you do them when energy prices are lower. You may be able to see when prices are at their highest and lowest with the addition of an in-home device or other tool that syncs with your new smart meter.
What is a HAN device?
A home area network (HAN) device is a piece of equipment that communicates with your smart meter and with your retail electric provider (REP) to help you manage and control your energy consumption. Examples of HAN Devices include in-home displays, thermostats, and smart appliances.
To learn more about how to obtain and install a HAN Device, please contact your REP.
Why are advanced meters currently being promoted in Texas?
Over the past few years, Texas lawmakers and the federal government have encouraged advanced metering system (AMS) deployment throughout Texas and other states. Texas leadership is committed to improving electric services to customers and providing customers the information they need to make important decisions about their energy usage.
In 2005, the Texas Legislature directed the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to create a surcharge incentive for utilities that deploy AMS programs benefiting utilities, retail electric providers, and customers. This allowed utilities to voluntarily deploy AMS programs and recover the costs of deployment through the surcharge. (See House Bill 2129; See also Texas Utilities Code Sections 31.005(b)(5) and 39.107(h)). In this legislation, the Texas Legislature recognized the potential of advanced metering to provide more choices for customers, so it encouraged the adoption of these new technologies by Texas electric utilities.
In 2007, the Texas Legislature expressed its intent and encouraged "advanced meter data networks be deployed as rapidly as possible to allow customers to better manage energy use and control costs" (See House Bill 3693; See also Texas Utilities Code Section 39.107(i)).
In 2008, the PUC adopted a rule in support of advanced metering (PUC Substantive Rule 25.130).
Which Texas utilities are currently deploying advanced metering systems (AMS)?
Approximately 6.1 million smart meters will be deployed across the ERCOT region within the next few years. The three major utilities in the ERCOT region, Oncor Electric Delivery, CenterPoint Energy, and AEP Texas (North and Central) are currently deploying their AMS programs.Texas-New Mexico Power has filed an application with the PUC for AMS deployment.
Oncor Electric Delivery
As of September 30, 2010, Oncor has deployed 1,343,458 of a total estimated 3 million smart meters planned for customers in its service territory. Deployment of the remaining meters is expected to be completed sometime in 2012.
As of September 30, 2010, CenterPoint has deployed 700,040 of a total estimated 2.2 million smart meters planned for customers in its service territory. Deployment of the remaining meters is expected to be completed sometime in 2012.
As of September 30, 2010, AEP Texas has deployed 116,383 of a total estimated 1 million smart meters planned for customers in its service territory. Deployment of the remaining meters is expected to be completed by 2013.
The Office of Public Utility Counsel (OPUC), as a voice for residential and small business customers, participated in the proceedings leading up to the Public Utility Commission’s (PUC) approval of the utilities’ applications to deploy advanced metering systems. OPUC remains actively involved in the monitoring of each utility’s AMS program.
For detailed information about the filings for each of these utilities, please visit the PUC's free, public interchange at http://www.puc.state.tx.us/industry/filings/Default.aspx.
Additionally, other municipally-owned utilities, not regulated by the PUC, have begun deployment of advanced meters in their service territories. For example, Austin Energy has installed advanced meters, or automated meters, throughout the city of Austin. For more information about Austin Energy's advanced meters, please visit http://www.austinenergy.com.
Another municipal utility, City Public Service (CPS Energy) in San Antonio, has installed advanced meters as well. For more on CPS Energy’s AMS deployment, please visit http://www.cpsenergy.com/.
Where can I find information about Oncor's advanced metering system (AMS) deployment?
Oncor’s “Smart Texas” webpage, http://www.oncor.com/tech_reliable/smarttexas/default.aspx,
provides up-to-date information on its AMS deployment, as well as other useful information on smart meters and the smart grid.
If you live in the Oncor service area and want to see when advanced meters will be installed in your neighborhood, please visit http://www.oncor.com/tech reliable/smarttexas/news.aspx.
For specific information about Oncor's AMS filings with the Public Utility Commission (PUC), please visit the PUC's free, public interchange at http://www.puc.state.tx.us/industry/filings/Default.aspx.
For more information on AMS in the Oncor service area, please call Oncor at 1-800-518-2380, or call your retail electric provider.
Where can I find information about CenterPoint’s advanced metering system (AMS) deployment?
CenterPoint’s “Energy InSight” webpage, http://www.centerpointenergy.com/services/electricity/residential/smartmeters/imagine, provides up-to-date information on its AMS deployment, as well as other useful information on smart meters, the smart grid, and energy efficiency.
If you live in the CenterPoint service area and want to see when advanced meters will be installed in your neighborhood, please visit http://www.centerpointenergy.com/services/electricity/residential/smartmeters/deployment/.
For specific information about CenterPoint’s AMS filings with the Public Utility Commission (PUC), please visit the PUC's free, public interchange at http://www.puc.state.tx.us/industry/filings/Default.aspx.
For more information on AMS in the CenterPoint service area, please call CenterPoint at
1-800-332-7143, or call your retail electric provider.
Where can I find information about AEP Texas’ advanced metering system (AMS) deployment?
AEP’s “gridSmart” webpage, https://www.aeptexas.com/save/SmartMeters/, provides up-to-date information on its AMS deployment, as well as other useful information on smart meters and the smart grid.
If you live in the AEP service area and want to see when advanced meters will be installed in your neighborhood, please visit https://www.aeptexas.com/save/SmartMeters/InstallationSchedule.aspx.
For specific information about AEP’s AMS filings with the Public Utility Commission (PUC), please visit the PUC's free, public interchange at http://www.puc.state.tx.us/industry/filings/Default.aspx.
For more information on AMS in the AEP service area, please call AEP at
1-877-373-4858, or call your retail electric provider.
Who pays for the new smart meters?
Electric customers in the service areas receiving smart meters pay a monthly surcharge that is included in their monthly electric bill. The Texas Legislature and the Public Utility Commission authorized the utilities to recover the costs of AMS deployment through this surcharge.
The surcharge amount differs for each utility; however, all utilities use this surcharge to recover the costs of communications infrastructure, back-office computer systems, management of real-time electric usage data, customer education, and low-income customer assistance programs. Customers should check with their retail electric provider to find out how these charges will appear on their bill.
Oncor Electric Delivery
Oncor recovers its AMS costs through an 11-year surcharge, which began in January 2009. The AMS surcharge of $2.19 for residential customers appears on their monthly electric bill.
CenterPoint recovers its AMS costs through a 12-year surcharge, which began in February 2009. An AMS surcharge of $3.24 is applied to monthly residential electric bills for the first 24 months of deployment. For the remaining 120 months, the surcharge will be lowered to $3.05.
CenterPoint received $200 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant funding to accelerate its current smart meter and associated equipment installation that make up its AMS. The remaining $50 million will be used to accelerate the installation of the first phase of CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric’s Intelligent Grid that utilizes the AMS and other technologies to build a self-healing grid, and improve operational efficiency and reliability.
CenterPoint plans to use the $150 million designated for deployment acceleration to reduce the AMS surcharge passed on to customers in its service area. The specifics of how the surcharge will be reduced are currently pending in CenterPoint’s electric rate case before the PUC.
American Electric Power (AEP) Texas
AEP Texas recovers its AMS costs through an 11-year surcharge, which began in January 2010.
For customers in the AEP Texas Central service area, an AMS surcharge of $3.15 is applied to monthly residential electric bills for the first 24 months. For the second 24 months, the monthly surcharge will be lowered to $2.89. For the final 84 months, the monthly surcharge will be $2.26.
For customers in the AEP Texas North service area, an AMS surcharge of $3.15 is applied to monthly residential electric bills for the first 24 months. For the second 24 months, the monthly surcharge will be lowered to $2.77. For the final 84 months, the monthly surcharge will be $2.35.
Texas-New Mexico Power (TNMP)
TNMP has filed an application with the PUC for AMS deployment. The State Office of Administrative Hearings plans to hold a hearing on TNMP’s application in February 2011.