More on Texas Electricity & Capacity Markets

The debate over capacity markets and whether or not they will become a model for Texas electricity continues to rage. I’ve already given you my thoughts on a Capacity market in my primer on the subject. But more information from all sides continues to blast out from all interested parties. First was the release of an NRG study that admitted that a capacity market would cost Texans an additional 4.7 billion dollars per year. Of course, NRG who would love a capacity market, indicated much of that money would be recouped. Fortunately, Paul Ring of Energy Choice Matters quickly debunked that notion in his article last week.

Of course, the biggest claim of the power generators is that they simply aren’t making enough money to warrant investment as long as natural gas prices continue to remain low. And this is despite raising the market cap last year (with more raises in the pipeline) precisely to encourage investment in new generation plants.

Of course, despite claiming not enough profits, large generation companies sure seem eager to PLAN new plants, according to this article in Rueters

Power companies in fast-growing Texas are drawing plans for 20 new generation plants, even though most projects cannot be financed because of a standoff between state regulators over how to reform the state’s $29 billion electricity market.

Of course, to me, “cannot be financed” reads more like “waiting to see if they can squeeze more money out of taxpayers.” But I might be cynical. What I really did enjoy was later in the article, this little snippet:

Panda Power Funds of Dallas, considered a maverick among developers, overcame significant financing hurdles this year to begin construction of two natural gas-fired plants totaling 2,200 MW.

In the world on power generation, Panda Power is a small guy. And yet this little guy managed to find financing to build two new plants in Texas despite the current “stalemate.” One would think mega companies such as NRG or Just Energy wouldn’t have any difficulty securing financing for new plants. In fact, they wouldn’t. They just want more profits. It’s funny how Panda is “considered a maverick” when the only thing they’re doing is creating supply where there is need for demand.

Anyway, the debate over a capacity market will continue to rage. Hopefully Rick Perry’s newest appointment to the PUC, former Chief of Staff Brandy Marty, will bring common sense to the discussion and eventually get capacity markets tossed out. Fingers crossed.

Champion Energy Wins Staggering 4th Straight J.D. Power Award

In what is increasingly looking like a foregone conclusion, Champion Energy has ranked in the top spot of the 2013 J.D. Power & Associates survey for Texas electricity customer satisfaction. This marks the fourth straight year that Champion Energy has won the coveted award. Last summer marked them as the first three-time winner of the award.

From the press release:

Champion Energy Services ranks highest among retail electric utility providers in Texas for a fourth consecutive year, with a score of 764. Champion Energy Services performs particularly well in price; billing and payment; enrollment/renewal; customer service; and communications.

 

Champion posted a cumulative score of 764. Congratulations to Champion Energy!

Also of note was Green Mountain Energy, which managed to come away with the 2nd spot in the survey with a cumulative score of 737. That is a huge improvement over their 2012 score of 691, and was enough to vault them 9 spots into 2nd place, edging out Bounce Energy who had a cumulative score of 736.

Rounding out the top 5 were StarTex Power and Brilliant Energy, with scores of 730 and 720 respectively. The entire chart is listed below:

2013 J.D Power Survey Results

I’ll be back tomorrow with a post examining the findings in a bit more detail, as well as an update to the Texas Electricity Ratings rankings.

Texas Electricity and Capacity Markets: A Primer

The agenda by the power generators who create Texas electricity for a Capacity Market is being pushed harder and harder these days, and it looks like things might be coming to a head. This article by Tony Bennett, who is the President of the Texas Association of Manufacturers, is one of the most basic and straightforward explanations of a Capacity Market as I have seen. It’s also one of the most straightforward and easy to understand articles illustrating why a capacity market is a horrible idea that will only do one thing: rob from Texas consumers and give to big power generation companies. And for anyone  Continue reading “Texas Electricity and Capacity Markets: A Primer” »

Direct Energy Purchases Bounce Energy

This morning Direct Energy has announced their purchase of Texas retail electricity provider Bounce Energy. Bounce Energy, who has consistently been at the top of the Texas Electricity Ratings rankings (currently #1), has easily been the most innovative electricity provider in the country in terms of their online technology/capabilities and their success in reaching out to potential and existing customers through social media outlets.

Additionally, just recently, Bounce made groundbreaking contributions to the electricity space with the launch of their new MyAccount functionality, as well as their Build Your Own Plan functionality. The Build Your Own Plan is the only one of it’s kind in the electricity space, and allows customers to select their own plan term length, the amount of renewable energy in the plan, whether they want automated and paperless billing, and more.

In contrast, Direct Energy has long been lacking in the realm of online functionality, digital customer outreach, and a customer friendly web-portal. So on the surface, this seems like a very smart purchase by Direct Energy, but only if it’s viewed as a strategic purchase of specialists and experienced personnel to bolster some trouble areas of their business. If it is just viewed as a purchase of a customer book, then I’d purport that Direct Energy is wasting a great opportunity.

Fortunately, from some of the quotes in the press release, it looks like Direct Energy is very much viewing this as a strategic purchase:

“We are always looking for new ways to enhance our customers’ experience and satisfaction,” said Steven Murray, President of Direct Energy Residential. “Bounce Energy’s digital marketing insights and e-commerce platform will bolster our capabilities as we expand our product offerings to current and potential customers.”

 

“Direct Energy is the ideal organization with which to expand our e-commerce platform and digital marketing capabilities,” said Robbie Wright, CEO of Bounce Energy.

If that is the case, and by all appearances it seems to be a strategic purchase, this is great news for both Direct Energy and Texas electricity customers alike. Bounce’s technology and marketing savvy along with Direct Energy’s resources (which allow them to go toe to toe with incumbents like TXU and Reliant), could create the kind of Texas electricity company that will push innovation in new ways that will only benefit Texans, as well as customers in all other states Direct Energy sells electricity.

All in all, it’s a very interesting day for Texas electricity customers. The #7 company on Texas Electricity Ratings is purchasing the current #1 company, but there’s a lot of hope that the union will mean great things for customers. Congratulations to both Direct Energy and Bounce Energy!

Bounce Energy Launches New My Account Functionality

Texas electricity company Bounce Energy continues to innovate in the realm of online customer experience with the launch of their new MyAccount technology. You can read about the details here, but suffice to Continue reading “Bounce Energy Launches New My Account Functionality” »

Power Generators Continue Campaign to Squeeze Texas Electricity Customers Dry

In a turn of events that stuns absolutely no one, the energy generators in the state of Texas are once again attempting to leverage more money from the customers and retail electricity providers to line their pockets. And naturally, they are using the alleged, worst case scenario of an “energy shortage” in Texas and the fears surrounding it as their vehicle to increased profits. From the DMN article: Continue reading “Power Generators Continue Campaign to Squeeze Texas Electricity Customers Dry” »

Risings Costs – Your Electricity Company Has Little Choice In the Matter

It was a known fact that electricity rates would take a substantial hike after Donna Nelson and the PUC approved an increase in the market cap last summer. And I’ve been steadily watching those rates rise since then. And this summer in particular I’ve seen more angry reviews than usual from customers complaining about the available rates when they’re renewing their electricity plans. It’s a potent cocktail of panic over the supply on the ERCOT grid, and the PUC’s inability to pull back from hitting the panic button, mixed with the all too self-serving pressures from the existing generators for more, more, and more that are driving prices up and why they’ll likely stay there with no end in sight. Let me explain.

Why Are The Rates Increasing?

When the emergency market price cap for power was voted into an ongoing, every summer increase through 2015 from the original $3000/mWh in 2011 to an absurd $9000/mWh in 2015, people familiar with the market and the market drivers knew that electricity rates would go up. And while updating the Texas Electricity Ratings recently, I took the time to compare the rates from this summer versus last summer’s electricity rates. Of the 41 electricity companies listed on Power To Choose last summer, the average rate for a 12 month plan in the Oncor service area was 8.8 cents per kWh. This summer, of the 46 electricity companies listed on Power To Choose offering a 12 month electricity plan in Oncor, the average kWh rate was 9.8. That’s an increase of almost 13%.

An increase of 13% might not seem like much, but it came after the market cap increased from $3000 to $4500. The staggered increases are scheduled to keep increasing until they stop at $9000. If the numbers continue upon that projection, it would mean prices could settle after an increase of 52%. That would be an average 12 month contract rate of 13.3. That’s approximately 15% higher than the highest 12 month plan on the market today, and even that is a 12 month green energy plan which are even more expensive than regular 12 month plans. And that will be the AVERAGE plan rate.

Another thing to consider is that the price per kWh isn’t the only thing that will cause your bill to increase. Electricity companies, trying to keep up with soaring energy generation costs, are getting more and more clever at disguising and passing on their costs to customers. One method is the increasingly noticed Minimum Usage charges. I’m seeing more and more customers complaining about them in reviews and emailing me asking questions. If customers are citing them more, it’s because their effect on bills is increasing enough for people to take notice. Minimum Usage fees are how electricity companies cover costs for servicing customers such as billing, call centers, etc. on customers if they aren’t using a given threshold of electricity, but there is no oversight or regulations on how an REP can implement their minimum usage rates. They can have a high rate from the start, or increasingly they can pick an arbitrary usage threshold and jack the electricity rate up astoundingly if a customer doesn’t meet that threshold. This way REPs can recover their expenses while still seeming to be offering competitive rates. So read your fine print, customers.

If Not The Electricity Companies, Then Who?

The natural assumption when a company raises their prices is that it’s entirely by their own choice. But in this instance, a better comparison would be the cost of gasoline. The cost of gas at the pump is tied to many things, first and foremost the cost of oil per barrel. Another is the cost of transportation (there’s a reason gasoline is cheaper the closer you get to refineries as opposed to places where it has to be transported by truck across several states). The cost of electricity is heavily dependent on the cost to buy the energy from the electricity generators (such as Luminent, NRG, etc). As when the cost for barrels of oil increases the price of gas at the pump, when the generators set higher rates for the sale of their energy, REP’s have no choice but to raise the electric rates they offer their customers.

So the real question is, why is the cost of generation increasing so substantially? Well, as I’ve written about before, the beginning of the problem is the perception of growing scarcity of energy to meet the increasing needs of the state of Texas. With the rapid population increase the past few years, and the growing industries moving to Texas because of a favorable business environment, the electricity needs of Texas are potentially outpacing the growth of generation. And because the Texas electricity market is deregulated, the private sector has to decide to invest in generation and build more power plants. The problem is, the generators are saying that they aren’t certain they’ll make the profits they’d need to justify the investment.

The power generators aren’t building many new plants. It appears they’ve decided to play chicken with the state of Texas’s electricity needs because, well, they can and with the PUC giving into their every request to date, they’re incented to do so.  PUC is proving itself to be more or less beholden to the electricity generators, and as a result every single decision they’ve made to try and spur generation has unsurprisingly seen in favor of the claimed needs of prospective electricity generation investors. The market cap was a move to entice generators to build more plants, but right now all it has done is increase prices for residents and REPs alike. As well, changes have been made to effect the longevity of emergency pricing events. Ancillary energy charge pricing has been moved up as well. Each of these moves feeds into the claimed needs of generation. And the generators are also hugely in favor of switching to a capacity market, which is another move that would also favor their interests as well, as opposed to consumers.

While the population increase of Texas can’t be controlled, one thing that certainly could change would be Donna Nelson and the PUCs willingness to lay prostrate for the energy generators and rubber stamp any initiative in hopes that they’ll eventually invest in new generation. The problem is, why would the power generators start building anything until they’re positive they’ve squeezed every last possible drop of profits and concessions from the PUC and Texans? It isn’t as if they’re meeting any resistance, or like the PUC is saying “No” to anything. If I were an energy generator, I’d also probably say nothing and let the PUC keep throwing consumer dollars at me as well. It’s almost like one of the ridiculous movie scenes where someone keeps bidding more money at an auction against themselves without anyone else putting out any bids.

A key to this whole bataan death march towards higher prices since the August of 2011 scare is that the pricing for residential electricity has been at an all-time low. Frankly, it was artificially low last summer heading into this spring, given the enormous jump in wholesale pricing from pre-summer 2011 to the pre-summer 2012 period. It’s as if REPs were waiting, hoping even, to see if there wouldn’t be a pull off from the wholesale pricing before they took the step of driving the prices in the market upward. This spring’s climb in natural gas prices appears to have been the final straw. Numerous reputable REPs ultimately moved prices upward significantly and the other names more or less followed. The luxury in the pricing lull for the PUC during all of the recent changes that will hammer residential bills is that they were able to claim, and often have repeatedly, that pricing on the residential side remained at all-time lows. Of course this was a house built on sand and now it’s being washed away. As the heat from residential advocacy groups rises again, it’s going to be interesting to see how the commission endeavors to handle further negative moves that favor no one but the bemoaning generators. It’s one thing to make moves when no one is looking, but something altogether different when everyone impacted begins paying attention.

What’s disturbing in all of this is of course that the whole point of an electricity-only market is to maximize the efficiencies of the market’s ability to produce the last necessary MW of power. It’s not a design intended to have excessive length in the ability to generate power.  Nonetheless, every decision made in the last two years has basically planned for the worst possible scenario, a market seize-up due to running out of power – something that has never occurred and has a likelihood of occurring even in current situations of scarcity at an infinitesimal percentage. It’s as if almost having to institute rolling blackouts for a few hours on a few days in a once-in-115-years-of-weather-history weather event in August 2011 has now been established as the accepted norm for planning with all market actions into the future. That that would create a market with excessive length to the detriment of every participant for 718 out of every 720 days seems to be moot. Here we are, 2 years later with more reserve margin than 2011, normal weather, and virtually zero pressure on the grid regarding scarcity, yet pricing for consumers is soaring and will continue upward.

So What Happens Next?

Unfortunately the only certain answer to that question is that electricity rates will continue to rise. For consumers, I’d suggest locking in long term rates for as long as possible. As for the PUC, who knows what will change in that regard. It’s hard to see their behavior towards energy generation changing any time soon, at least not until a 3rd member is added to replace the existing vacancy for the 3 person panel of commissioners. And while Kenneth Anderson has been a more consumer oriented voice on the commission, the truth is that little will probably change in the near future for the PUC. The best customers can do is understand what and who is causing their rising electricity rates and to be diligent in shopping for the best deals they can find. And then duck for cover

Texas Electricity Ratings: Rankings Update: 6/17/2013

Now that Summer is in full swing, with higher electricity rates hitting the market and several months of new customer reviews in the system, it is once again time to update the Texas Electricity Ratings company rankings and see how providers stack up.

Unsurprisingly many established providers lost points this time around with the higher market electricity rates, although that was somewhat offset by other ranking factors. That being said, there’s no arguing how higher electricity prices are altering the Texas electricity landscape. Without further ado, here are the rankings:

Bounce Energy                 4.01
Champion Energy             3.89
TriEagle Energy                3.75
StarTex Power                  3.71
Gexa Energy                     3.68
Amigo Energy                   3.15
Direct Energy                    2.98
TXU Energy                       2.84
Green Mountain Energy     2.75
Reliant Energy                   2.47

Congratulations to Bounce Energy, who once again held onto the top spot. Bounce is followed up by Champion Energy, another mainstay at the top of the ratings. Newcomers TriEagle Energy, StarTex Power, and Gexa Energy round out the top five.

When comparing these latest ratings to the ones from last summer, it is really apparent when just how much the market cap has really altered the way electricity companies are assessing risk in their portfolios as well as how the generators are bidding out electricity. In short, it’s really amazing just how much higher rates are across the board for customers, regardless of which provider they choose.

 

Champion Energy Launches Customer Usage Emails

Champion Energy announced yesterday that they are going to start offering Smart Track emails. Smart Track emails are weekly letters from Champion to their customers with smart meters which will feature usage data that shows how much electricity they’re using each day. The idea is to be able to see how customer usage behavior will affect their bills, and how it changes from day to day with different temperatures. Champion isn’t the first to offer their customers email information like this, however they do join Bounce Energy as a very small group of retail electricity providers to offer this service to their customers, along with Reliant. You can

Continue reading “Champion Energy Launches Customer Usage Emails” »

Power To Choose To Become More Consumer Oriented?

Recently it was announced that Power To Choose will be launching a new website on May 6th, with the hope that the new site will be “more focused on the shopping experience.”  Also, notable is that shoppers will now be able to rate retail electricity providers. Hmm. That sounds familiar. I think there’s another Texas electricity website Continue reading “Power To Choose To Become More Consumer Oriented?” »