Business balks at high energy costs

By Lane Luckie - bio | email

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Opening a new business during tough economic times isn't easy. It can also get very expensive, thanks to local and state permits, building inspections, and countless other start-up costs. However, an East Texas health food store didn't factor in what he calls "obscenely high electric bills."

Robert Worthen opened another location of his family's health food store in Nacogdoches last July. "I've got three brothers and a sister that own and operate and their families the nine stores," he said.

It was a lot of work, from remodeling to meeting health codes."The inspection department and health departments. We work with those people. I expected those to be my main challenges, but actually they were my least."

He said he expected high start up costs, but couldn't believe how much he was paying for electricity. "Our power costs in Nacogdoches were 3 to 4 times higher than in Texarkana."

Worthen wondered why the rates could fluctuate so much, esepecially since deregulation was supposed to bring down the price. "Even other neighboring states are paying far less than we are in the part of East Texas," he said.

A recent report found that electricity rates in Texas rose 64 percent between 1999 and 2007. But TXU disagrees. They called  it a smokescreen. A TXU spokesman said if the report included the past two years, it would show that energy rates are approaching prices prior to de-regulation and are continuing to fall. That is something Worthen is hoping for.

Worthen knows the hot summer months are ahead and if he doesn't get his electric bill under control, he may not make it through the end of the year. "It makes you rethink what you are doing. If you are operation on the edge of profitability, you may not be able to keep it open," he said.

Closing is a real possibility, but he said his customers are loyal, which should keep him open.

TXU said customers can sign up for energy plans that will shave off the peaks and valleys in their electricity bills, as natural gas rates fluctuate. These types of plans lock customers in at a steady rate.

To shop-around for the best rates in your area, go to