Although the Texas Public Utility Commission has adopted policies to help electric customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, some retail electric providers — apparently — have been less than on board.
According to recent comments from PUC chair DeAnn Walker, the agency has received numerous customer complaints regarding long hold-times with retail electric providers, or worse yet — reports of REPs hanging up on customers of failing to return their calls. Clearly frustrated, Walker said during the Commission’s open meeting last week that some customers who had requested deferred payment options instead were directed by their REPs to more limited 10-day extensions.
COVID 19 Rules
She stressed that under agency rules, any customer facing a non-payment disconnection were clearly within their rights if they asked to have their bills deferred instead. “I would like everyone to step back and try to work through this for the good of the state,” she said.
The Commission adopted its emergency COVID-19 customer protection rules last month and set them to expire in July. The emergency protections cover only residential customers who buy electricity in areas of the state with electric deregulation, including areas around Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and Corpus Christi.
Among other protections, the new rules bar REPs from disconnecting financially distressed customers and bars REP from collecting late fees through May 14. A new charge on electric bills amounting to 33 cents per 1,000 kWh of usage funds the program.
“I probably shouldn’t say this but if there are (retail electric providers) that have set their business models on being in this business based on receiving late fees — then, you’ve got a problem with your business model,” she said.
In interviews with the Houston Chronicle, some retail electric providers defended their customer service records. For instance, British-owned Direct Energy, the third-largest seller of electricity in Texas, told the newspaper that its call center has had an average answer time of less than 10 seconds over the past two weeks.
You can read more about the PUC’s COVID-19 customer protection rules, here, on the agency’s website.
Is a policy analyst for TCAP, a coalition of cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.