Texas regulators say they’re ready to crack down on power companies that try to rope consumers into buying electricity plans that are pricier than they appear.
“It’s come to my attention that some [retail electric providers] have been working the system,” Donna Nelson, chairman of the Public Utility Commission, said Thursday at a public meeting. “They’ve got all these tricky little things in their prices, and whatever the fact sheets are called – the nutrition label – that makes it really difficult for customers.”
Nelson was referring to listings on the state-run website called Power to Choose, which is supposed to help Texans shop for retail electric providers on the competitive market. The commission created the portal for comparing rates in 2002 after Texas deregulated the electricity market across most of the state.
For years, consumer advocates have complained that per-kilowatt price listings for some plans can deceive ratepayers — with fees or other provisions hidden in fine print, for instance. In some cases, the cheap deals may last a few months before companies jack up the price. In other cases, it’s hard for Texans to picture how much they would pay in separate electric delivery rates.
Nelson instructed the agency’s staff to find out whether any companies are violating state rules.
“It’s time for us to do some serious analysis, including perhaps getting some focus groups in here,” she said, adding that they should also consider whether keeping the website up was worth the hassle of policing it.
“Whatever practice we put in place to try to end the confusion, they always find a way around that,” she said.
Commissioner Ken Anderson backed Nelson's idea. While recently surfing Power to Choose, he said he was “shocked” to find rates of 1 cent per-kilowatt hour — deals that were almost certainly too good to be true.
Brian Lloyd, the agency’s executive director, agreed that many listings on the site are “really not indicative of what people can expect.”
A call to a number listed for the Alliance for Retail Markets, which represents Texas retail electric providers, was not returned.