Court fight shows breaking up hard to do for NRG, electricity sales firm

By L.M. Sixel

Updated 11:48 pm CDT, Wednesday, August 22, 2018 Houston Chronicle

For about 15 years, the Houston sales company 7 Point Group sold electricity door-to-door, at grocery stores and during special events on behalf of NRG, the largest electricity seller in Texas, with brands such as Reliant Energy, Green Mountain Energy and Pennywise Power.

Business was so good that this spring NRG and 7 Point executives sat down over a steak dinner to talk about growth strategies, recalled 7 Point’s president, Marco A. Romero III. But just a couple of weeks later, the long relationship came to a crashing end with a late night phone call from NRG telling Romero that he and his company were fired.

“It made no sense,” said Romero, who estimates his 300 or so agents were responsible about 70 percent of NRG’s outside sales.

Now, the one-time business partners are in the middle of a nasty breakup, fighting in court over non-compete agreements and whether 7 Point used confidential NRG information to sell electricity for rival companies. For the moment, 7 Point has essentially shut down after a state district court in Harris County ordered the company to temporarily stop selling electricity in Harris County and most places in Texas. The 7 Point Group has appealed that ruling.

The legal dispute, now before the state’s Fourteenth Court of Appeals, will likely drag on for months, but it opens another window on Texas’ deregulated power markets and the fierce competition among electricity retailers to sign up customers. As with other mature markets, such as credit cards and cell phones, the way to grow is to poach customers from competitors, prompting aggressive tactics to lure those customers away.

In Texas, most of the selling of electricity plans is done by marketing companies hired by power providers. The marketing firms use armies of sales agents to pitch plans at grocery stores, sporting events or door-to-door. Good sales people can make six-figure incomes, industry officials say.

NRG paid 7 Point as much as $325 in commissions for each new customer, according to court records. The 7 Point Group has several contracts with NRG, including one signed four years ago to sell electricity plans door-to-door in Texas and others to pitch NRG plans at retail stores and community events, according to court documents.

For more: 

https://www.chron.com/business/energy/article/Court-fight-shows-breaking-up-hard-to-do-for-NRG-13174350.php#item-85307-tbla-3

 

How Texas power grid weathered blazing heat, record electricity demand

Houston Chronicle

L.M. Sixel Aug. 2, 2018 Updated: Aug. 2, 2018 12:05 p.m.

This summer was supposed to be brutal with days of triple-digit temperatures, less generating capacity and predictions the power grid couldn’t support the state’s electricity needs. Some of the dire warnings were spot on, as Texas broke records for heat and electricity use during the heat wave last month.

But regulators didn’t call for consumers to cut back. The lights stayed on. And wholesale prices didn’t spike as high as some feared.

Power experts figure it will take months for state regulators to report on whether there was any behind the scenes drama during the hour-by-hour power surges during the July heat wave that pushed temperatures in Houston above 100 degrees. At the moment, though, the state’s grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, credits careful planning for weathering conditions that tested grid reliability in Texas.

For more: 

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/energy/article/How-Texas-power-grid-weathered-blazing-heat-13126682.php

It pays to switch power plans, but few Houstonians do

By L.M. Sixel, Houston Chronicle

July 3, 2018 Updated: July 6, 2018 7:42am

Texas consumers can save hundreds of dollars each year by shopping for electricity, but most don’t seek out better deals, overwhelmed by the number and complexity of power plans on the state’s Power to Choose website, wary of fine print in too-good-to-be true offers, or just too busy to spend time calculating whether free nights and weekends offset the higher rates they pay during the week.

In the Houston area, only 16 percent of CenterPoint Energy’s 2.4 million residential customers — or about one in six — switched their electricity providers over the past year, according to the state’s grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Among the 3.5 million customers of the state’s largest electric distribution utility, Oncor of Dallas, just 13 percent — only one in eight — signed up with a new retail power company in the last 12 months.

Ultimately, analysts said, this means that the vast majority of customers are not reaping the benefits of electricity deregulation, which promised that more competition would mean healthy savings. One analyst estimates that consumers are leaving about $2 billion a year on the table, which is likely flowing to the bottom lines of retail electricity companies.

For more: 

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/energy/article/It-pays-to-switch-power-plans-but-few-Houstonians

Regulators blast electricity providers for deception

Houston Chronicle, By L.M. Sixel

June 28, 2018 Updated: June 29, 2018 7:02am

Texas regulators criticized “misleading” offers by electric power 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.

Commissioners put some of the state’s biggest retail power providers on notice to make their confusing, too-good-to-be-true price plans easier for consumers to understand or regulators will step in and do it for them. The commission hopes to finish its inquiry by August.

DeAnn T. Walker, chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, said during a public meeting Thursday that she felt moved to act because the commission has received lots of complaints recently about multi-tiered pricing systems that some retail power providers offer. Some charge 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour for consumers who use up to 1,000 kilowatt hours of power each month, but then spike if consumers use more power.

For more: 

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/energy/article/Regulators-blast-electricity-providers-for-13035691.php

Record-Breaking Electricity Usage Expected This Summer

By Robbie Owens  May 8, 2018 at 6:35 pm  CBS DFW 21

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Electricity demand will likely break records in Texas this summer, so experts are already warning about the pocketbook impact on consumers.

After all, it’s a pretty safe bet that Texas summers, sizzle. So the Barbero family in Dallas decided to stop gambling on how high the bills would go, and turned to solar power instead.

“In the summer, you can have a $400, $500 bill,” says Pebble Barbero. “We’re locked into our monthly rate for buying the panels and in the summer months we are generating more than enough electricity to cover all of our a/c costs and appliances and everything.” Barbero says the opportunity to use “green” energy also factored into the family’s decision.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, ERCOT, says the state has enough generating capacity to meet demand, yet the agency is already warning that “record-breaking peak usage” is expected this summer.

So whether it’s solar panels or simply turning up the thermostat, experts say conservation will be critical as we head into the warmer months. There’s already concern about the difference between the state’s power generating capacity and rising consumption: it’s called the “margin.”

For more: 

http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2018/05/08/record-breaking-electricity-usage-summer/

Texas' summer electricity prices expected to jump

Hot summer combined with closing of plants may result in price surges

By Ryan Maye Handy

February 20, 2018 Updated: February 20, 2018 9:01pm

Wholesale electricity prices in Texas are expected to jump this summer following the recent shutdowns of three of the state's largest coal-fired generating plants, which have driven the state's power reserves to their lowest level in more than a decade.

Retail customers in Texas would eventually feel the impact of rising wholesale prices in the form of higher electricity bills, but it is too soon to know when those bills might climb or by how much, analysts said. But anyone without a fixed-rate electricity contract could ride a roller-coaster of spiking power prices should there be a long stretch of extremely hot weather that sends demand soaring and stretches power supplies.

"We are going into a summer where people are going to be paying a lot, potentially paying a lot more," said Commissioner Brandy Marty Marquez at the state Public Utility Commission last week. "We are not really sure what we are going to see."

For more: 

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/article/Texas-summer-electricity-prices-expected-to-jump-12628755.php