Blog: CenterPoint Shuts Website, Keeps Focus on Utility Business

 

Houston-based CenterPoint Energy, a company best known for its massive regulated holdings in Texas, this week shutdown a contentious website it operated in the state’s deregulated electricity market.

CenterPoint Energy logo. (PRNewsFoto)

The move marks only the latest retreat from competitive markets for CenterPoint, which is best known for the regulated transmission and distribution networks it operates around Houston and the Gulf Coast. The company’s monopoly holdings continue earning stable returns, but some of its riskier non-utility energy businesses have suffered setbacks.

Earlier this month the company reported a first-quarter loss of $1.2 billion and its stock dropped 49% in the last 12 months, according to reports. The Houston Chronicle also reported in February that CenterPoint’s total return had declined by 15.1 percent over the past year, which made it the worst performer in an S&P 500 utility index that gained 26.7 percent during the same period.

WEBSITE BEGAN IN 2012

CenterPoint launched its “Your True Cost” website in 2012 as a service to Texans shopping for electricity in the state’s complex retail electric market.  The website generated revenues through sales commissions it received from the retail electricity providers it listed.

But almost from the beginning other online sellers complained that the website’s affiliation with Houston’s primary monopoly utility gave it an unfair advantage. The Public Utility Commission eventually rejected a protest lodged by those competitors. The end of operations at the website on May 25 should end that acrimony for good.

CenterPoint in recent months also announced other big structural changes, including the sale of a natural gas retail business for $400 million, and the sale of two natural gas distribution and transmission pipeline contractors for $850 million.

In February the company’s  then-CEO, Scott Prochazka, unexpectedly resigned. Interim CEO John W. Somerhalder II has told investors he expects the regulated portions of CenterPoint’s business to generate nearly 90 percent of its earnings going forward.

— R.A. Dyer