FYI from ECM:
November 21, 2008
Texas Power to Choose Site to List Lowest-Priced Products First
The PUCT will revamp the Power to Choose electric choice website to list offers by price, with the lowest offer at the top. Customers will first be prompted whether they are interested in a variable, fixed, or green product, and then the subset of offers will be ranked by price. Commissioners decided on the change at yesterday’s open meeting as Staff and the Commission’s marketing vendor gave an update on the Commission’s customer choice education campaign. Power to Choose currently lists offers randomly. Commissioner Donna Nelson expressed concern that the random listing can lead to higher prices being listed at the top, where customers first look. Customers seeing those high prices first may decide to not navigate the page further, and decide against getting more information about competitive options available, Nelson cautioned. Prices are currently listed randomly because the Commission felt price was not the only factor customers valued in choosing a plan, and that listing lower prices first could discourage customers from finding fixed-rate plans or renewable plans, both of which carry a premium. Staff also noted that retailers offering the absolute lowest prices may not necessarily be the most stable, pointing out some of the five REPs that failed this spring were among those offering extremely low rates. Nelson said it was “dangerous” to assume that REPs offering lower prices might be more likely to go out of business. That concern will be further mitigated, she added, as the Commission acts upon proposals to strengthen the REP certification standards. Chairman Barry Smitherman noted the site now lets customers filter the results by variable, fixed or green product, so concerns about listing products by lowest to highest price disadvantaging certain types of products has been eased, as with the filter fixed and green products will still be easy to find. The Commission’s marketing agency reported that surveys conducted during the education campaign show that price and potential savings, by far, are the top priority of customers interested in switching. Nelson and Commissioner Kenneth Anderson asked if it would be possible to adjust the timing of most customer education efforts, which are mostly tied to the summer since it is the time when customers are most interested in shopping. Education needs to occur just prior to the summer so customers can avoid higher summer rates, Commissioners noted. The education campaign currently promotes choice in only certain windows during the year because of budget constraints, but the Commission has put in a request for more funding to lawmakers that would allow more education in the run-up to the summer. Funding would come from the $500 million in the system benefit fund. Nelson expressed a desire to get to the “next level” of customer education efforts, beyond the basics of choice and switching, while Smitherman would like to see greater integration of renewable energy into the education efforts. Staff also reported that they are working on other Power to Choose improvements, including enabling a print functionality that would allow customers to print the price listings.