Huge Electricity Discounts Ahead For Low-Income Texans

A state fund of nearly a billion dollars is supposed to help low-income Texans pay for their electricity. But for years — the state used the money to balance the budget. This year the fund will again be used for its intended purpose.

The System Benefit Fund was established in 1999, when Texas deregulated the retail power market and lawmakers wanted to 
protect the state's poorest residents from rising utility costs.

Ever since then, you've been paying a fee on your electricity bill of 65 cents per megawatt hour. For the average household, that's about $10 a year.

The money was supposed to provide a 20 percent discount to low-income Texans.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner was an early advocate of the fund, until 2003 when things changed.

"The legislature limited the discount to the barest minimum, ten percent, in order to be able to bank more of the money to be used to certify the state's budget."

The fund grew to nearly $850 million.

Lawmakers finally decided to dissolve the fund and return the money to the people. About 500,000 qualifying households will get an 82 percent discount off their September bill.

"Next year, for the months of May, June, July and August, they will again see that credit on their electricity bills for those respective months. Eighty-two percent in each one of those months."

As of September 1st, you'll no longer be charged the fee. Eventually, the money in the fund will fizzle out, with discounts getting smaller in 2015 and going away altogether in 2016.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...