On Thursday afternoon, my electricity went off for an hour, which was the fourth time I lost power that day. Three weeks ago, it went out for almost two hours. Meanwhile, four electricity retailers have failed in the past three weeks, and rates have spiked again — just in time for the summer air conditioning season. And if that isn’t enough, the agency that oversees the Texas power grid has indefinitely postponed a scheduled system improvement that was supposed to bring it into the 21st century — and it’s not saying exactly why.

The Texas electricity system is broken, and the Legislature had better fix it. If Allen Vaught or Bill Keffer want my vote in November in their race for the Texas House, they need to tell me how they’re going to do it. Otherwise, I’m not voting for them.

We still pay some of the highest rates in the United States, even with our "free market" reforms. I put free market in quotes because the market is not free. It’s impossible for it to be free, because the demand for electricity is inelastic. You can’t substitute something else for electricity to drive down the price, in the way you can buy chicken if beef is too expensive. We can’t live in a 21st century world without electricity, so the providers have no incentive to lower rates. In addition, we haven’t seen any technological changes that might lower the price, the way we have with phone service. We still get electricity the way we did when Thomas Edison invented the light bulb more than 100 years ago, over wires from the power station to the house.

Even Houston Mayor Bill White — hardly a Trotskyite — has had enough: "It’s time to admit ‘the emperor has no clothes.’ Electricity deregulation has failed to lower utility bills,” he said.

I am enough of a realist to realize that we won’t go back to regulation, no matter how appealing. Last session’s TXU adventure, in which the utility’s new owners got their way despite an overwhelming public demand for reform, means that any change will have to come within the framework of the current system. Which is fine with me, as long as we can fix what’s broken.

So there’s the challenge, gentlemen. Nuts to the rest of the junk that you might throw around during the upcoming election. I don’t care about DART or homeland security or taxes or toll roads. I want electricity system reform that will guarantee reliable service and honest competition. I don’t think that’s asking too much. Do you?


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