TEXAS inches toward power deregulation as pilot program goes into effect Tuesday

Monday, July 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ After several delays, the entrance of Texas into the deregulated electricity market is set to begin Tuesday.

Under a pilot program, officials of the state's electrical grid will begin switching some customers to new power providers at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

The Legislature created the pilot program to give power companies several months to test their systems before full-scale deregulation, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 1 in most of the state.

Industry officials have promised that deregulation will be smoother in Texas than in California, where it has been blamed for rolling blackouts and skyrocketing utility rates. They say the recent construction of several new power plants in Texas will help the state avoid supply shortfalls that have plagued California.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state's grid, gave the go-ahead for the pilot program last week.

Deregulation allows customers to choose their power provider much like they select a long-distance telephone carrier. Under the Texas pilot program, up to 5 percent of electric customers can switch power companies.

The pilot program is getting under way nearly two months after its first scheduled start date of June 1. Numerous delays were caused by computer problems.

While the delays were unfortunate, ``we think waiting until all the systems are ready will let us provide good customer service,'' said Eleanor Scott, spokeswoman for Austin-based Green Mountain Energy.