Citing potentially misleading electricity offers on powertochoose.org, the state’s top energy regulator called Thursday for a new examination of the government-sponsored website and possible reforms.
Powertochoose.org is a state-sponsored electricity shopping website that lists offers by retail electric providers as well as complaint data about them. Electricity shoppers can sort electricity deals listed on the website by lowest price.
But some Texas REPs have found ways to structure their products so that the website lists them with extreme low prices, even though many or most customers who avail themselves of those products will end up paying much more.
Public Utility Commission chair DeAnn Walker highlighted such offers during the agency’s Thursday meeting. She said that if such offers were not outright deceptive, they were at least misleading. “We’re seeing an increase in complaints and this concerns me … I’m going to encourage REPs to reexamine the transparency of their offers,” she said.
A PUC staffer during the meeting outlined the results of an initial agency analysis of one prominent offer on powertochoose.org. The offer touted a 2.3 cents-per-kWh price for a customer using 1,000 kWh each month. The staffer noted that if a hypothetical customer used exactly that amount of electricity each month, then he or she would indeed pay 2.3 cents per kWh. But if that hypothetical customer instead followed more typical usage patterns — one in which he or she used an average of 1,000 kWh per month, but more electricity during certain months and less during others — then that hypothetical customer could pay an average of 10.8 cents per month over the course of the year.
The staffer did not identify the retail electric provider that was the subject of the analysis.
Chair Walker also said Thursday that she had spoken with agency staff about the possibility of removing some of the more problematic offers from the site — especially given that the agency frequently touts powertochoose.org with Texans and encourages consumers to find affordable fixed-rate deals on it. Walker directed staff to examine the website and suggest possible fixes.
PUC Commissioner Arthur D’Andrea also expressed concern about some offers found on the website, stating that those with extremely low rates did not “reflect any economic reality.” He said he hoped PUC staff could address problems with the website before the end of the summer.
This is not the first time the PUC has considered making powertochoose reforms. Former PUC chair Donna Nelson oversaw various changes to the website after it was determined that many REPs were employing a strategy of adding credits and charges to their offers in order to have them listed more prominently on the website.
The agency also has received hundreds of complaints about powertochoose.org over the years, although many Texans who have written to the agency have encouraged regulators to maintain the site and fix it, and not to abandon it altogether.
The Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, a sister group of the Steering Committee of Cities Served by Oncor, also supports the continued operation of PowerToChoose.org, but encourages the PUC to continue to monitor the site and make needed reforms.