Late and incomplete billing plague Texas electric retail pilot

With just 6 weeks to go before parts of Texas are fully deregulated, customers participating in the retail electricity pilot program have been getting incomplete and late bills.

NewPower Co., the largest nonutility electricity retailer in Texas, said incomplete meter data has caused the billing delays experienced by a “majority” of its customers. First Choice Power Inc. said customers who switched electric providers have been “lost,” and Reliant Energy Retail Services said many customers’ bills have to be estimated and produced manually.

Reliant said in a report filed with the Public Utility Commission it has manually processed bills during the pilot but “continuing this effort will have increasing impacts on customers and additional cost.”

Retailers, participating in the pilot program for competitive electricity markets, warned problems with receiving meter data and the transmission charges for each customer must be fixed. If not, bills won’t be timely or accurate, they said.

NewPower, with 61,000 customers enrolled to date, reported sending incomplete bills to some customers. The company said it didn’t receive transmission and distribution charges for all customers from the respective transmission utilities. In some instances, the company received the transmission and distribution invoice but no monthly electricity usage data.

This means that some of NewPower’s customers get their monthly electric bills late, the company said. “NewPower views this as a negative customer experience but a necessary one at present,” the company said.

First Choice also reported problems with incomplete data causing late and incomplete bills and added customer accounts have been “lost” in the system. Customers who sign up for service are switched to the retailer but the retailer is never notified of that switch, said Scott Forbes, chief accounting officer for First Choice.

These customers are receiving power but get no electric bills until that paperwork eventually catches up, he said. NewPower also expressed concern about “lost” transactions. First Choice’s Forbes said he is worried about the customer experience if bills are late, incomplete, and inaccurate.

“We have seen improvement in the flow of data. But we don’t want the customer adversely affected,” said Forbes. “The pilot is a time to iron out these problems until we have a high degree of timeliness and accuracy in the bills.”

Forbes said under the current utility system, billing was 99% accurate. “Customers should not have a worse experience with competition,” he said.

While complaints were numerous, most retailers weren’t ready to call for a delay of the January start date. Reliant said it continues to participate in preparing for retail market open on Jan. 1, 2002, and is “confidant that any remaining significant issues will be overcome.” Earlier this month ERCOT officials in a hearing before a legislative oversight committee said they see no “fatal flaw” that should delay the market opening.

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