This story originally appeared on Houston Public Media.
It’s called the Power to Choose website. Run by the Texas Public Utility Commission, millions of Texans use it to pick among dozens of electricity marketers offering what can seem like a zillion different rate plans.
Back in July, we reported how some customers complained that the site is not only confusing, it appeared rigged to steer you to plans that at first glance look like good deals but aren’t.
An electricity customer in Dallas, Frank St. Claire, said he had to develop his own spreadsheets to try to make sense of it. How much money did St. Claire estimate he’d overspent by not being signed up with the best plans available over the years?
“It would amount to the thousands of dollars,” St. Claire told Houston Public Media back in July.
Public Utility Commission chairman Donna Nelson told us she’d not heard about the problem.
“I am not aware of what you’re talking about,” Nelson said on a media conference call in July of last year.
Fast forward to last month and a meeting in Austin of the utility commission led by Chairman Nelson.
“It’s come to my attention that some REPs may be working the system on Power to Choose in order to be listed as offering the lowest price,” Nelson said during the Feb. 11 meeting of the commission.
The REPs she’s talking about are Retail Electric Providers, those marketing companies that post their offers on the state’s Power to Choose website.
“They’ve got all these tricky little things in their prices….that makes it really difficult for most customers,” Nelson said.
Nelson instructed the commission’s staff to investigate and last week, it presented an update to the commission. The staff’s recommendations included changing the way the website sorts all the offers and presents them. Currently, it shows the lowest-priced offers first – some as low as one-cent for a kilowatt hour, which commission members said was impossibly low.
The commission said it would now take comments from customers and the industry for the next month and then consider exactly what changes to make which Nelson said could include scrapping the state’s Power to Choose website altogether. Nelson said if they state was going to run the site, the information on it shouldn’t be deceptive.
“People look at it and they see, OK, this is the PUC’s website, this one-cent rate must be legitimate, so I’m going to sign up. Then they get their bill and it’s not one-cent,” Nelson said at the Feb. 11 meeting.
If you want to comment to the commission, here’s a link to document detailing how to do that. More on the commission’s “public participation” process can be found here.