When I received my latest Gexa Energy bill recently, I expected it might be larger due to missed meter readings during Hurricane Ike. I'm not the only one. Today's Houston Chronicle is carrying a story about residents' shock at their much higher bills this month. I noticed my bill had been on the rise since last summer, but it took a whopping $580 electric bill -- for a 1-bedroom townhome with a study -- to motivate me to grapple with a solution.
As it turns out, my sky high bill was less a result of last month's unread meter and more a result of a variable rate plan that I'd unknowingly ended up on several months back.
Here's a copy of my latest bill:
(You can also download the pdf to follow along. As a side note, Gexa: why the need to refer to me as "Mrs.", admittedly a personal pet peeve, especially since you couldn't finish spelling my last name? If you were sending me a wedding invite that would be one thing, but this is a bill. Kill the "Mrs.")
Notice the small area to the side where there is an "Important Notice: Your kWh rate has changed to 21.03 cents." Immediately, I have questions:
- Changed from what?
- When did this change take place?
- How was this change authorized?
- Is it going to change every month?
- What's a reasonable change? -- I know energy prices have gone up, but thought recent news about relief at the pumps would bode well for my electric bill too.
- Wait! What sort of plan am I on? I signed up for one that was 13.7 cents kWh awhile back. Why am I not on that plan anymore?
So I headed over to PowertoChoose.org, the Official Electric Choice Web site of the Public Utility Commission of Texas and found the latest rates available from Gexa, among others.
Why is this a problem for Gexa, you may ask.
- Negative Advertising -- Prior to this incident, I'd been a loyal proselytizer of Gexa, primarily via their promotion with Continental Airlines for miles for every dollar spent on electricity. I first selected Gexa after hearing about this promotional offer and found that their rates were extremely competitive according to the PowerToChoose website. Now, however, I feel like I've been completely screwed, for months on end, by a loophole in the system. Isn't it fair to assume that a 12-month contract would be renewed under a similar contract rate plan -- especially since I'm still receiving miles for my electricity consumption? And you can bet I won't be singing their praises to my friends who are looking to switch.
- Losing a Customer -- So, now I've gone and discovered the fact that my rate sky rocketed from 13.7 cents to 21.03 cents. I'm hopping mad. So what do I do? (Besides writing an internet article about it.) Well, naturally I head back over to PowerToChoose.org and look for more attractive rates. Am I inclined to remain with Gexa? Not so much so. We know from Marketing 101 that it costs a lot more to recruit new customers than it does to keep existing customers, right? So what's a better way for Gexa to avoid giving me a real power to choose? Proactively notifying me of my upcoming rate plan change, by default offering me the same rate plan, reasonably aged to account for real variations in electricity rates. For example, "Continental Miles Rate Promotion -- New Customer (13.7 cents - our lowest rate with miles)" ages into a new contract, entitled to "Continental Rate Promotion -- Existing Customer, Year 2 (14.7 cents - our lowest rate with miles).
I hate surprises, especially when they concern my budget, and I know I'm not alone in this regard. So there's another perfectly honest way to avoid this precarious position we're in: I propose a usability enhancement to the Gexa Energy (and all other electricity provider's) statements clearly detailing the following information:
- Rate Plan Name
- Average price/kWh (1,000 kWh)
- Cost/1000 kWh
- Rate Type
- Renewable Energy Content
- Term (mo.) Period & Cancellation Fee
- Remaining Term (mo.) Period
Here's a sample of my proposed UI enhancements, listed in red:
There's plenty of room in the existing statement to accommodate this recommendation. This information should be readily available in a database. Except for the remaining term period info, which is easily calculated by existing data, all of this information is listed on the PowerToChoose website. (Again, do you really want me to get there? Because I can easily sign up with someone else the same way I first signed up with you.)
Expected level of effort:
- Add additional pricing info to existing XML feed powering statements (1-2 days, depending on existing infrastructure)
- Modify template setting up new "Power To Choose" area (1-2 hours)
- Days/Week/Months/Years of debate over whether this is a good idea or not (Varies by organization)
Suggested Compensation: Rebate the amount of money I've overpaid in the past months since I went off the original plan. And remove "Mrs." from all bills.
So what's keeping Gexa Energy, and every other utility provider out there, from making this simple change?