In the News

After PUC action, low-cost electricity plans offered on Spanish Power to Choose site

The Public Utility Commission of Texas is cracking down on power providers that don't offer plans on both Power to Choose and its Spanish language equivalent, Poder de Escoger.
Photo: Dreamstime, HO / TNS

State regulators on Monday made good on their threat to pull down the plans of retail electric providers on the Power to Choose shopping website that were not also offered on the Spanish language equivalent, Poder de Escoger, deactivating 221 electricity plans —or about 40 percent of the total —from 18 retail electric providers.

Since the Public Utility Commission took action, retail electricity providers have translated their plans into Spanish and put them on Poder de Escoger, turning the once moribund site into a robust shopping website. By Tuesday afternoon, the site in Spanish included hundreds of low-cost offerings that were not there Friday, when utility commissioners first raised the issue.

"I think you could say that the market has responded," said commission spokesman Andrew Barlow.

The state-managed Power to Choose website is the way millions of consumers buy electricity in the deregulated market that covers 85 percent of Texas, including Houston and Dallas. The electricity plans advertised on the website are among the cheapest available, consumer advocates say. By not listing them on both websites, Spanish speakers are at a disadvantage.

Hispanics are also the dominant demographic group in Houston, representing 42 percent of the population of Harris County. Companies should be reaching out to Hispanics, a growing population that is overwhelmingly young with money to spend, local business leaders say.

"Most companies get it," said Laura Murillo, president and chief executive officer of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Murillo suggested the real culprit is that Hispanics make up less than 2 percent of corporate boards nationwide and in Houston. If Hispanics were sitting on the retail electric provider boards, serving as chief executives or reporting to the CEOs, she said, they would have asked why their electricity plans weren't posted on Poder de Escoger.

"It says to our community, 'We're still not at the table," she said.

On Friday, commission chairman DeAnn Walker put the state's retail electric providers on notice that the commission would pull their offers from the commission's Power to Choose website by 8 a.m. Monday if the same plans were not available on the Spanish language version.

Walker noted that 57 electricity providers offered plans on the English version of Power to Choose, but only 23 providers offered plans on the Spanish language site. Some retail providers said they didn't get much traffic from Poder de Escoger, making them reluctant to spend the money it would take to translate rapidly changing offers into Spanish

"I'm not happy with that at all," said Walker, during the commission meeting. "They're not going to have one on the English and not on the Spanish."

The shopping websites now offer 766 plans in English and Spanish, a 38 percent increase in the number of plans offered from over the weekend.

As published by the Houston Chronicle https://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/energy/article/Texas-regulators-pull-plug-on-221-power-plans-for-13236610.php