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AARP urges PUC to use its power to save lives

AUSTIN, TX – Citing an "imminent peril to the public health," AARP today joined Rep. Sylvester Turner of Houston and three other consumer groups in petitioning the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to adopt an emergency rule giving consumers new tools to avoid dangerous electricity disconnections this summer.

The petition asks the PUC to temporarily prohibit cancellation fees for customers who seek to switch to a new provider with lower rates.  It also seeks the required disclosure of available discounts for low-income households in monthly electric bills.  Joining AARP and Rep. Turner in the petition were One Voice Texas, Texas Legal Services Center and the Texas Ratepayers Organization to Save Energy (Texas ROSE).

The PUC turned down an initial petition filed on June 23 by AARP and Rep. Turner, but some of the PUC commissioners comments, coupled with recent heat-related deaths and the fact that August – historically one of the hottest months in Texas – still lies ahead, made it necessary to come back to the PUC with an amended petition.

"We ask the PUC to show some compassion and act promptly to protect the public welfare and safety before more tragedies occur," said Bob Jackson, AARP Texas state director. "While the brutal summer heat wave may take a break here or there, the worse may be yet to come and many Texans remain at risk."

Following up on comments made by PUC commissioners earlier in July, the petitioners asked that August and September electricity bills include a public service notice about a state mandated discount on electricity bills for households at or below 125% of federal poverty guidelines. The groups termed "unacceptable" that possibly hundreds of thousands of income-eligible Texas households currently do not receive the discount, which is funded by the state’s System Benefit Fund.

Also, the petitioners asked the PUC to require electric providers to suspend termination fees on customers’ electricity contracts for the August and September 2009 billing periods.  Customers are often required to pay $200 to $300 to switch to a more affordable retail electricity provider.  The PUC commissioners themselves in a July 2 public meeting encouraged consumers to switch to retail electric providers that offer lower rates to help them better afford their bills.

"Many electricity customers simply do not have $200 to $300 to pay for the privilege of switching," the petition noted.  "Without the relief… telling customers subject to these fees to just switch to another lower-priced provider to help them manage bills during this heat wave is a hollow statement."

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