Most Texas power customers aren't consumed with the intricacies of electric deregulation. Stranded costs, monopolistic practices and nodal markets aren't high on their list of worries.

In North Texas, many of TXU's customers are paying rates nearly 45 percent higher than the national average - an expensive reality that will be amplified as summer approaches. For consumers, deregulation has been a burdensome drag on their pocketbooks.

Start by funding real education efforts. Don't trust utilities to tell their customers about the competition. Consumers aren't willfully rejecting money-saving options; many simply don't know where to find reliable information or understand how to change providers. The onus should be on the state to tell them.

If education campaigns don't spur competition, allow the Public Utilities Commission to redistribute customers who are still paying the highest rates. Provide an explanation of their electricity options and ask these consumers to make an affirmative choice for the new provider.

A one-time adjustment to the highest rates would help address the unintended consequences of the price-to-beat provision. Although a more competitive market eventually should push prices down, consumers need relief now.

The price to beat allowed for artificially inflated rates. The provision now has expired, but the costly effects linger. The state need not cap rates, but this one-time-only relief would show a good-faith effort to protect consumers.

This change is needed to effectively prohibit utilities from manipulating wholesale market prices. TXU has been fined $210 million for withholding power and driving up prices. Lawmakers must foreclose the possibility of a repeat occurrence.

Sen. Troy Fraser, who sponsored three bills (SB 482, 483 and 896) aimed at making deregulation work, has proposed limiting power companies to serving 25 percent of the market in each region. But he concedes that 25 is not a magic number, and he's willing to work with House leaders to reach a compromise.

This is one more way to assure due diligence for any transaction that affects consumers. The TXU buyers have wrongly characterized this requirement as re-regulation and have complained that the state is changing the rules in the middle of the game.

But this falls far short of re-regulating the market. Rather, PUC approval is a needed check and balance for any major utility sale. This requirement was proposed while TXU was still accepting buyout offers and would be enacted before this transaction is completed. So investors will know the rules the state is playing by before they sign on the dotted line.

We have praised many elements of the TXU buyout, and the investors appear poised to move the utility in the right direction. But effective legislation should not focus on helping or hindering a specific company. It simply should do what's best for the state's consumers.

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