In email after email, ratepayers are urging the Texas Public Utility Commission to continue maintaining the powertochoose.org website — but also to reform it.

Several writers complain of confusing deals on powertochoose.org, or misuse of the website by deceptive retail electric providers. Others encourage the PUC to crack down on copy-cat websites operated not by the state agency, but by private companies.

powerotchoose“It is long past time that the Public Utility Commission made powertochoose.org honest and informative,” wrote Jay Trainor of Georgetown. “Right now it is rigged. (But) the website should not be scrapped; that would be giving into the electricity marketing industry.”

“I urge you to level the playing field by creating a new, unbiased tool, or requiring utilities to change their rate language to make PowerToChoose (an) effective and reliable again,” said another ratepayer, writing from Abilene.

The PUC in March called for the public comments after receiving complaints regarding seemingly unrealistic 1 cent-per-kilowatt-hour deals listed on the website.  There also have been media reports — including from Dallas Morning News columnist Dave Lieber — about privately-held copycat sites that may mislead electricity shoppers.

Powertochoose.org has been around since the very beginning of retail electric deregulation in Texas in 2002. On the website Texans can compare electricity prices, find complaint data about electric companies and sort electricity deals by terms of service.

The Texas Coalition for Affordable Power has joined with others in calling for the PUC to reform the website. An April 22 letter from TCAP to the PUC outlines a number of recommendations. Among them:

  • Commission staff overseeing powertochoose.org should more proactively curate the site.
  • The website could exclude from its definition of “fixed-rate products” any deal with less than 12-month terms. These comparatively short-term deals could be removed from the website, or, alternatively, listed under a new “short-term” category.
  • The Commission should create a standard offer product that retail electric providers could offer on a voluntary basis. The terms and conditions of these products would be uniform, although electric retailers would be free to set their own prices for them. Customers shopping on the website could make truly apples-to-apples comparisons by sorting specifically for standard offer products.
  • A price calculator function should be added to the website. This calculator would allow customers to use their actual usage history to compare deals.
  • Deals with usage-based fees and charges should either be removed altogether from powertochoose.org, or the default setting on the website should be set so these deals are excluded, rather than included, in basic searches.

TCAP has urged Commissioners to put the needs of consumers first as they consider reforms. “Unlike for-profit shopping websites, Power To Choose historically has been financed by ratepayers and rightly operates for their benefit,” TCAP writes.

Update: On May 25, three Texas state Senators added their voices to those expressing their support for the website. A letter to the PUC from the lawmakers — state Sens. Royce West, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and Judith Zaffirini — can be found here.

TCAP’s comments and those from other public policy groups, retail electric providers and individual citizens can be viewed online, filed under PUC docket number 45730 found here.

— R.A. Dyer

What is the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power?

R.A. Dyer is a policy analyst for TCAP, a coalition of more than 160 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.

 

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