Texas utility regulators criticized “misleading” offers by some electric utility providers on PowertoChoose.org, the website run by the Public Utility Commission of Texas, and launched an effort to introduce more transparency into the system that millions of Texans rely upon to buy electricity.
Until then, the commission will ask retail providers offering the confusing price plans to make them more transparent. The commission hopes to finish its inquiry by August.
DeAnn T. Walker, the chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, said during a public meeting Thursday that she felt moved to act because the commission has been getting lots of complaints recently about multi-tiered pricing systems that some retail power providers offer.
The plans charge 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour for consumers that use 1,000 kilowatt hours of power each month but then spike in price if consumers use more power. In some plans, the rate can jump to more than 20 cents per kilowatt hour if customers exceed 1,000 kilowatt hours a month.
A commission study examined three plans in three markets prominently displaced on the first page of Power to Choose and calculated what a typical consumer would really pay under the plans. Households use an average of 1,000 kilowatts a month but typically, consumers use less power in the winter and more in the summer.
When those shifts in usage are factored in to the rate calculations, the “real world” cost to consumers is really 10.8 cents per kilowatt hour, not 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour, according to the study. The retailer providers and the markets were not identified.
“I know we have a competitive market and people can come up with their products,”said Walker. “But it does concern me that we have things on the Power to Choose that maybe aren’t deceptive but are at least misleading.”
Initially the commission, which encourages consumers who live in the deregulated parts of Texas to use Power to Choose to pick their electricity plan, considered pulling the offending offers but opted instead to ask the retailers to provide more transparency.
“It doesn’t reflect any economic reality,” said Commissioner Arthur C. D’Andrea, who said the plans deceive consumers as some retailers try to game the system. “There is no getting around that.”