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Bush signs Texas electric deregulation bill into law

AUSTIN (AP) -- Gov. George W. Bush ushered in a new era for Texas utilities Friday by signing a bill that will allow most electric customers to begin shopping for lower rates in 2002.

"Competition in the electric industry will benefit Texans by reducing monthly rates and offering consumers more choices about the power they use," Bush said.The bill marks a sweeping overhaul of the state's $20 billion-a-year utility industry, the second-largest in the country behind California.

Texas joins more than a dozen other states that have already opened their utilities markets to competition or are doing so.

The legislation includes a complex set of measures to limit the power of the incumbent utilities -- many of which have held monopolies in their areas for more than 50 years -- so that new companies can compete.

New utility companies are expected to move into Texas' markets to offer lower prices and new technology, which could range from selling "green power" to providing gadgets that tell consumers when they are wasting electricity.