PUC’s Nelson Pushes Website Reform

PUC Chair Donna Nelson
PUC Chair Donna Nelson

Change for the better could soon be coming to the state’s electric shopping website under reforms  promoted by Public Utility Commission chairwoman Donna Nelson.

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

But the website has come under fire in recent months because of potentially misleading deals appearing in its search queries. These deals feature extremely low — and apparently unsustainable — prices of less than 2 cents per kilowatt hour. Because the website sorts deals from lowest-priced to highest, these seemingly unrealistic deals get listed prominently.

Ms. Nelson called together a panel of consumer and electric company representatives this week to discuss reforming powertochoose.org.  In response to recommendations, she indicated the agency likely would change the website query function in such a way that deals that include usage-based fees and credits would be removed from default searches. There was wide consensus among experts at the meeting that such a change would reduce the prominence of these potentially misleading low-priced deals in many website queries.

Ms. Nelson has been extremely critical of the retail electric providers offering the questionable deals, saying that “these rates are not the full story of what customers will actually be charged.” There also have been media reports — including from Dallas Morning News columnist Dave Lieber — of customer frustration with powertochoose.org.

The Texas Coalition for Affordable Power applauds Chair Nelson for her work to improve powertochoose.org. TCAP likewise has offered its own suggested reforms, including a suggestion to eliminate from the website all deals with usage-based fees and charges, or, alternatively, to remove such deals from the website’s default searches. You can find TCAP’s recommendations 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 170 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.