1 APRIL 2014 Development Issues PUBLICATION 2061 A Reprint from Tierra Grande magazine Real Estate Center. All rights reserved. Retail electricity markets were deregulated across most of Texas in Whether a particular commercial or industrial customer now benefits from lower electricity rates than they would have under the state s old regulated system is difficult to say. However, there is little doubt that procuring that electricity has become a more complex task since deregulation. Electricity procurement is only one of many factors businesses consider when choosing a location for their facilities. But the steeper learning curve for companies considering power options in deregulated regions of Texas can be intimidating when measured against states with fully regulated power markets. This brief overview identifies the major factors commercial and industrial firms should consider when obtaining power in the state s deregulated areas. Electric Utility Types The Texas Legislature s deregulation of retail electricity applies only to investor-owned utilities within the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) region (see map). ERCOT covers about 75 percent of the land area of Texas and 85 percent of the state s electricity load. Four basic types of electric utilities operate in Texas: investor-owned utilities (IOUs), municipally-owned utilities (MOUs), cooperatives (co-ops) and, to a small extent, river authorities. Both inside and outside the ERCOT region, service areas are usually single certified to one of these types of electric utilities. However, occasions do arise when a service territory will be dual-certified. These are areas where customers can obtain power from more than one of these electric utilities. Co-ops are private, nonprofit utilities owned and controlled by the members to whom they provide power. Created in the 1930s to bring electricity to sparsely populated communities, 74 co-ops continue to primarily serve the state s rural areas. Texas MOUs and co-ops set their own electricity rates and are not regulated by the state s public utility commission (PUC). When located within the ERCOT region, they are allowed to join the deregulated market but are not required to do so. Once an MOU or electric co-op decides to opt-in to the deregulated electric market, they forfeit the ability to opt out later. Thus far, only one Texas co-op and no MOUs have opened their markets to competition. Regulated Market The Texas PUC has typically granted only one investor-owned utility in any given area outside ERCOT a license to provide electrical service. The PUC also sets the rates that can be charged to customers in those areas. Procuring electricity in regulated markets is a fairly straightforward process. Businesses go directly to the utility serving the area to negotiate power contracts. Although rates or tariffs are based on peak demand and the amount of energy used per month, regulated utilities can also include a variable fuel cost factor that can be passed through to clients. In the dual-service areas outside ERCOT s region where service territories overlap, an IOU and co-op or an IOU and MOU may both have the right to provide electric service. In these regulated dual-certified areas, clients may need an opinion from a third-party consultant to determine whether a co-op, IOU or MOU offers the best price.
2 Deregulated Market In the areas that are deregulated within ERCOT, electric power providers have been unbundled and separated into three segments: power generation, transmission and distribution utilities (TDU) and retail electric providers (REP). Generators own power plants and sell their electricity to REPs on the ERCOT wholesale electricity market. REPs compete by marketing electricity to commercial and industrial (as well as residential) clients in any deregulated area under various rate plans. They can also provide customer service functions such as billing. All REPs must be certified by the PUC to do business in Texas, and REPs set their retail power rates based on what the market will pay. TDUs own the power lines the electricity flows through. The transmission and distribution of electricity, the wires component, remains regulated throughout Texas. Wires charges are based on a client s peak demand and power usage. Parties involved in helping clients obtain Amarillo power in deregulated markets include: Brokers have third-party agreements with REPs and their fee for services is built into the cost of the REPs price of power; Consultants work directly for the client Lubbock looking for power and are paid by the client they represent, either up front or over time; Aggregators brokers or consultants who pool small and large users together to negotiate a more favorable power price; and Direct Salespersons REP employees who El Paso negotiate power Alpine contracts with clients. Companies should know their electrical load profile and tolerance for price risk before choosing the type of power contract they want to execute. They should also make sure the parties they choose to work with are knowledgeable and can structure pricing to fit their firm s needs. It is important to know how long the parties and REPs have been in the business. Direct salespersons are often assigned a specific geographic area whether they are experienced or not. Larger power users may have the leverage to bypass REP salespeople and negotiate directly with the pricing desks. A broker s or consultant s level of experience and expertise must also be assessed. Finding a competent broker or consultant can be difficult. Although references from other companies are probably the most effective method, firms can ask REPs for their opinion or conduct a Google search using Texas electricity procurement as the search criterion. Pricing Methods for Deregulated Power Three general methods of pricing are used for electricity contracts in deregulated Texas markets. They are flat fixed pricing, block and index pricing, and real-time pricing. Power bills contain three general components: regulated wires charges, contracted energy charges, and variable passthrough service charges or fixed service charge adders. Clients should make sure they understand how passthroughs work. They should also make sure all pass-throughs are listed individually and flagged as to whether or not they are in their power contract. This is critical for an apples-to-apples comparison of rates between REPs. Pass-throughs often get clients in trouble, says Bill Thomas of Thomas Engineering, an energy management and consulting firm. I have seen clients get quotes for their power of 4.9, 5.0, and 5.1 cents per kilowatt-hour (kwh) for example, and then see a fourth REP offer a price of 4.0 cents. This should raise a red flag. Margins are extremely thin in the electricity market. They may be signing up for variable pass-throughs that could increase dramatically for things like nodal congestion or line loss charges to get the price down to that 4.0 cent number. Abilene San Antonio Laredo Austin Area covered by ERCOT Regulated areas Dallas Corpus Christi Brownsville Houston Beaumont Thomas regularly sees clients taking on variable risks they aren t even aware of. Companies should read their power contracts carefully. If they don t understand it, hire someone who does. I am constantly surprised by how many companies obtaining power don t even read their contract. Companies wanting price certainty for the service charge component can mitigate the variable pass-through risk by opting for a fixed charge or adder instead that can be included in the
3 power charge. Although the fixed adder may look more expensive than paying variable pass-throughs, pass-through charges can become quite high if some unexpected power event should occur for even a short period. If REPs quote an adder of more than 1.0 cent per kwh, shop other REPs, advises Thomas. Pricing Method 1: Fully Fixed Power Pricing Fully fixed pricing is based on a set charge per kwh. Electricity rates are the highest under fixed pricing contracts but also offer the most price certainty. Flat fixed pricing is most commonly used for retail businesses and small and medium-sized commercial customers. Clients should watch out for volume bandwidth clauses in their fixed contracts. If a 10 percent bandwidth clause is in their contract and their power usage stays within the band, they pay the fixed contract price. If clients exceed their maximum allowed usage by more than 10 percent, REPs can charge an overage based on the real-time price or contract pricing, whichever is higher. Alternatively, if clients use less than their bandwidth, REPs may credit them using the lower price of power. Again, this should be laid out in the contract. Most REPs will offer unlimited bandwidth contracts where they pay the same price for power regardless of usage, says Thomas. Just remember that this will cost you a premium for the privilege of price certainty. REPs may also tell clients they have never settled volume swings, meaning they have never charged clients for any usage above the bandwidth. However, if it s not in the contract, the client has no guarantees, says Thomas. Pricing Method 2: Block and Index Pricing A client s price risk is increased under this method. A set price is paid for a specific block of power, and any amount used over or under the block is settled at a price based on the real-time cost of power. ERCOT sets real-time power prices every 15 minutes. The ideal customer for this option uses a consistent amount of power over specific time periods. Very unpredictable power users are not candidates. Only large power users such as manufacturing operations should consider this option. We are talking one megawatt or more, says Thomas. This method allows the customer the flexibility to use more power when market prices dip while layering in blocks of power at a fixed price. So it offers some budget predictability. There are downside risks, says Thomas. For example, if the client doesn t use its whole block of power and the realtime price should be less than the contracted price, the client would have to pay the difference between the fixed block price and the real-time price for the unused energy portion for that 15-minute period. Pricing Method 3: Real-Time Pricing Firms take on the most risk under real-time pricing. Their energy cost will be re-established every 15 minutes by ERCOT. Under this method, large swings in rates are possible. I have seen prices swing from 5.0 cents to $5 per kwh during unexpectedly heavy demand periods or extreme weather, says Thomas. The longest duration of extremely high realtime prices I recall was probably the two days when prices hovered around $3 per kwh back in early February If power users, and even REPs, haven t hedged their cost of power correctly, they could be out of business. This method works best for clients that can change their load quickly to avoid price hikes. Some examples might be foundries or other manufacturers. Other possibilities might be companies that can pass through most of the increased electricity costs to others. Any small or medium-sized commercial company has no business executing real-time price contracts, says Thomas. They can t weather the price volatility, and it also requires someone on staff monitoring prices at all times. Contract Length Most REPs won t go further than five years out on a contract. They are buying that power from the generator and are unlikely to take the risk of locking into a price for any longer. REPs will want to make sure the If clients exceed their maximum allowed usage by more than 10 percent, REPs can charge an overage based on the realtime price or contract pricing, whichever is higher. client has good credit and will actually be in business for the length of the contract. Clients may not want to step into a long-term power contract at first. In multitenant properties, tenants may have no choice. If possible, companies should give themselves time to see if their REP is competent and offers good customer service. REPs may also want to size up a new customer. It is not uncommon to see REPs go month-to-month with a threemonth deposit for clients they are not sure about to allow them to build credibility over time, says Thomas. Buyer Should Beware Companies looking for power should be aware that dozens of REPs and many more brokers do business in Texas. Also, no certification or licensing is required to become a broker or consultant. Although REPs must be certified, their salespeople are not required to do so. Every year there is increased competition and confusion on who to pick to offer you power, says Thomas. For companies, it often comes down to price and not relationships. My most successful clients have taken the time to build relationships with all the parties involved. Dr. Hunt is a research economist with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. THE TAKEAWAY Obtaining power in the deregulated areas of Texas is challenging. As a result, commercial power users must do considerable research to identify the best deal for their type of operation.
4 Texas A&M University 2115 TAMU College Station, TX MAYS BUSINESS SCHOOL Director, Gary W. Maler; Chief Economist, Dr. Mark G. Dotzour; Communications Director, David S. Jones; Managing Editor, Nancy McQuistion; Associate Editor, Bryan Pope; Assistant Editor, Kammy Baumann; Art Director, Robert P. Beals II; Graphic Designer, JP Beato III; Circulation Manager, Mark Baumann; Typography, Real Estate Center. Advisory Committee Kimberly Shambley, Dallas, chairman; C. Clark Welder, San Antonio, vice chairman; Mario A. Arriaga, Spring; James Michael Boyd, Houston; Russell Cain, Fort Lavaca; Jacquelyn K. Hawkins, Austin; Ted Nelson, Houston; Doug Roberts, Austin; Ronald C. Wakefield, San Antonio; and Avis Wukasch, Georgetown, ex-officio representing the Texas Real Estate Commission. Tierra Grande (ISSN ) is published quarterly by the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas Subscriptions are free to Texas real estate licensees. Other subscribers, $20 per year. Views expressed are those of the authors and do not imply endorsement by the Real Estate Center, Mays Business School or Texas A&M University. The Texas A&M University System serves people of all ages, regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin. Photography/Illustrations: Real Estate Center files, p. 1; Kari Rives, p. 2. About the Real Estate Center The Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University is the nation s largest publicly funded organization devoted to real estate research. The Center was created by the Texas Legislature in 1971 to conduct research on real estate topics to meet the needs of the real estate industry, instructors and the public. Most of the Center s funding comes from real estate license fees paid by more than 135,000 professionals. A nine-member advisory committee appointed by the governor provides research guidance and approves the budget and plan of work. Learn more at
6 Things to check off before you check out. End-of-Life Judon Fambrough Senior Lecturer and Attorney at Law T E C HNIC AL REPORT JANU A R Y 2014 Learn more at recenter.tamu.edu/pdf/2044.pdf
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