PUC Continues to Drop Ball on Consumer Advocacy?

I revieve reader questions on a regular basis about how the PUC handles their ranking system. The general thrust is “I see there is a state rankings system for Texas electricity, but it looks dated.” Or “I don’t see the electricity provider that I’m interested in listed on the PUC’s page. What gives?” I wrote an article in early November about some serious flaws and confusing inconsistencies in how the PUC updates and lists the Texas retail electricity providers (REPs) in their complaint scorecard in attempt to address some of these FAQs. I then posted an update in early January pointing out that yet again the PUC had fallen behind and failed to update their complaint scorecard. I’m not sure what the problem is, but the PUC has still managed to sit on their hands and do absolutely nothing to their complaint scorecard. And I’m not referring to any of the confusing inconsistencies that remain unaddressed (more on that later), but I’m talking about a simple basic update of the scorecard. The complaint scorecard is supposed to be released once a month, and is a composite of a rolling 6 month average. Sure at some point AFTER January 11th (my last post), they posted an update for December. But now we’re 20 days in February, more than 80% of the way through the month, and an update that should have been posted around the first of the month is still nowhere to be found.

The last time I wrote an article and asked questions of the PUC (after I phoned and interviewed them), they managed to find the resources to update their scorecard the very next day. I hope this article does something similar, and maybe they can make some more changes. Or perhaps I should just make a monthly post to spur updates to their page. This isn’t curing cancer here.

What Else Is Wrong With The Complaint Scorecard

Lets take another opportunity to break down some big time issues with the complaint scorecard as it stands right now. Other than the fact the PUC struggles to post regular updates, the biggest problem has to be confusion. For anyone who doesn’t actually work in the Texas electricity market like myself and is trying to shop, this scorecard seems to have huge glaring omissions. Lets break it down.

There are a number of companies that have multiple listings on the complaint scorecard that actually do businesses as multiple names. The prime example is US Retailers, which does business as Pennywise Power, and also a new brand of green electricity known as Compassion Energy. Compassion Energy has plans listed on PowerToChoose.org (PTC), but there’s no listing of them anywhere on the complaint scorecard. Ditto with US Retailers main brand, Pennywise Power. So what does a customer think when they see Compassion Energy or Pennywise Power on PTC, but not on the complaint scorecard? Do they think they’re too small?  Do they think they’re not licensed? Who knows. Or better yet, what if a customer leaves Pennywise and goes to Compassion Energy? They wouldn’t even know they stayed with the exact same company.

In the past, the PUC explained that any company who was purchased (such as NRG purchasing Green Mountain Energy) that had a separate PUC License would maintain an independent listing on the complaint scorecard. But that doesn’t explain US Retailers, whose entry doesn’t list any of the actual names US Retailers does business as in Texas: Pennywise Power and Compassion Energy. And yet right below US Retailers, we see Texpo Energy listed, with the other names they do business as in Texas, Southwest Power & Light and YEP, respectively. Why the inconsistency?

And that doesn’t include the NRG ties.  NRG is currently doing retail electricity business in Texas as Reliant Energy, Green Mountain Energy, Pennywise Power, Compassion Energy, and they even have a listing on the complaint scorecard as Energy Plus Holdings (a northeast company they purchased) despite the fact that Energy Plus Holdings offers zero plans on PowerToChoose. That whole situation is as clear as mud.

And just for humor sake, how would a customer find out all of this on their own? Well, assuming they knew where to start, they would visit the PUC homepage. Then they’d click on Industry. Then on Registration and Reporting, under Electricity.Then on REP – Retail Electric Providers Certification and Reporting. THEN they would scroll down to Retail Electric Providers, under Registered Companies. And then finally someone would input a search criteria and get an answer to their question about who owns who. Well, in reality, they’d have to probably put in a dozen or two different searches and cross reference the answers. Now, what are the odds the average person shopping would know how to, much less go through that process to find out who Pennywise Power really is? It’s only somewhere between 6 and 60 steps…IF you know exactly where you’re going first.

I wouldn’t expect the bureaucrats employed at the PUC to understand this, but anyone with any experience in eCommerce or even shopping online understands that less is more  with clicks and the amount of steps it takes for someone to get to information. The reality is that not a single consumer is going to have the time, energy, or inclination to click through that many pages to get to the bottom of who is who. This is exactly the kind of information the PUC is supposed to be providing to the consumer with ease and without any hurdles. The hurdles serve to benefit only the big REPs in the market playing games with their various brands and literally no one else. Not the consumers, not the PUC, the health of the market, and not the media covering the space.

NRG/Reliant/Pennywise/Compassion Energy/Energy Plus Holdings/Green Mountain Energy isn’t the only company with multiple brands in Texas not represented consistently between the scorecard and the PTC shopping website. TXU Energy recently filed a separate license for an REP geared towards charity called 4Change Energy, and they are not listed on the complaint scorecard yet, either. Infinite Energy does business as Veteran Energy, or at very least bought their customer book, and yet there’s no mention of Veteran Energy anywhere on the scorecard. There are probably a dozen examples of problems in this vein.

Other Examples of Problems

Big name players with multiple brands isn’t the only problem. There’s also a lack of consistency. A company called ENCOA (formerly Twin Eagle Management) is listed on PowerToChoose.org, but not on the complaint scorecard. Meanwhile, a company called Enow has no plans on PowerToChoose, and yet is listed on the complaint scorecard despite, from what searching I did, not even having a PUC license to sell electricity in Texas. Now, I’m sure Enow DOES have a license, but I couldn’t find it by searching the PUC website for their license like I demonstrated above, which is a PERFECT illustration of one of the problems existing here.

Illuminar Energy is listed on the complaint scorecard, but has no plans on PowerToChoose.org. Our Energy has plans on PTC, but isn’t listed on the complaint scorecard. Source Power & Gas is offering plans on PTC but isn’t listed on the complaint scorecard. Xoom Energy has no plans on PowerToChoose, yet has a very high complaint scorecard ranking. How is this not extremely confusing to an average shopper? And this is from a website with the express purpose of helping to educate consumers and help them shop for the right electricity plan for them. Is this really the best we can hope to expect?

How To Fix The PUC Complaint Scorecard

Honestly, fixing the complaint scorecard isn’t complicated. I believe a few small changes would work wonders for transparency and customer confidence.

First, the PUC needs to make it a priority to actually update their scorecard on a consistent, timely basis at the beginning of each month. There’s no excuse for this not to happen.

Second, the PUC needs to create transparency of ownership CONSISTENTLY for all REPs listed on the complaint scorecard. I suggest two things. The first would be that if an REP is doing business under multiple names on their PUC license filing, then all of those names be listed out on the complaint scorecard, just like it currently does with Texpo/YEP/Southwest Power & Light. There’s zero excuse for it not reading US Retailers/Pennywise Power/Compassion Energy…this format is already in place for other REPs on the list! Direct Energy should be Direct Energy/New Leaf Energy, etc.

Furthermore, there should be some notice given to customers when a larger energy company is operating multiple REPs. Every company owned by NRG should have (an NRG Company) in parenthesis next to their list of DBAs. Ditto for TXU/Energy Future Holdings, ditto for Direct Energy/Centrica, and anywhere else where it is applicable.

Finally, the PUC needs to ensure that every single provider that offers plans on PowerToChoose.org is listed on the complaint scorecard. Period. If they’re selling electricity on the PUC’s shopping website, they should be listed on the scorecard. If they stop selling on the PUC website, they can be removed. Currently the PUC has a qualifier of not listing REPs with less than 2,500 customers, but that doesn’t help mitigate any consumer confusion if they flip over to the complaint scorecard and see nothing listed by a provider selling electricity on PowerToChoose. What does that say to a shopper, that the PUC’s own shopping website is allowing REPs to sell electricity that they can’t even be bothered to rank or review? The PUC might respond with the idea that they can’t rank everyone of any size, or that the volatility for the smaller customers rankings on a month-to-month basis based on 1-2 complaints have some merit, but aren’t without solutions. For example, they only have to list small providers that are actually listed on PTC, of which there aren’t many. And if they’re worried about volatility, list them at the bottom in a separate, smaller list of providers below 2,500 customers. There won’t be too many providers that qualify for a smaller list based on those criteria.

Final Thoughts

Part of the purview of the PUC and PowerToChoose.org is to educate the customers, look out for their best interests, and provide them with the resources to effectively and successfully navigate the Texas electricity market. But right now, the inconsistencies and confusion that exist on the complaint scorecard are a hindrance to customers, not a helpful resource. The inconsistencies between what’s listed on the complaint scorecard and PowerToChoose exacerbate the problem even further. If the PUC wants to live up to the part of their charter mandated to help customers, they need to rectify these issues sooner, rather than later.

 

2 thoughts on “PUC Continues to Drop Ball on Consumer Advocacy?

  1. What’s up PUC. If I don’t take care of business, I get fired. Are the people working at the PUC safe from being let go, or a loss in salary for not tending to business.
    You leave a lot of room to make fun of the Gov employees not being accountable or worse.

  2. Excellent information. I’m the energy writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and we’ve been publishing a chart of the lowest electricity rates every Saturday for quite a while. Incomplete ratings have been a problem from the start. This let us add ratings for Pennywise and TruSmart. I’ll continue to use the PUC search site to establish future corporate relationships for our listings. Thanks

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