Overhaul coming to state-run electricity shopping website

State regulators say some electricity retailers have been taking advantage of customers that shop on the powertochoose.org website. They’re now ordering changes to the website to make power plans easier to understand.

Many consumers are familiar with the state-run website when it comes to choosing their electricity plans, but the rates you see aren't always the rates you end up paying. The new changes aim to make it clearer for consumers so there are fewer surprises when your electric bill comes.

Laura Thornquist's team at Energy Ogre helps customers find better electricity plans.

“People end up paying a lot more they think they're going to pay. They don't take into consideration all the extra fees they'll be paying in addition to the price they see on Power to Choose,” she said. “It's very confusing and people get frustrated. That's why they get irritated with retail electricity providers. It shouldn't be this difficult, and that's why we're in existence.”

The price you see on Power to Choose isn't always the price you end up paying. In some cases, experts say companies tailor their plans to look best at certain usage levels, but then prices spike if you use a little more or a little less electricity.

The Public Utility Commission is taking aim at this practice by adding a new filter on the site to weed out those plans.

Another problem on the site is when you type in your zip code, hundreds of available plans pop up. New rules will limit the number of plans each provider can offer aim to protect against companies flooding the site with hundreds of different plans.

“The more they post, the higher they're going to rank on Power to Choose,” Thornquiest said. “So they're trying to limit that so that these retail electricity providers choose their best plans.” 

The commission also plans to make how-to videos and guides to help consumers through the website.

“It's hard. It's tough buying electricity in a deregulated area, so education is great,” Thornquist said. “But I've got to honest with you, who wants to sit there and spend hours at a time trying to figure out the best retail electricity provider? So I don't know if people will actually use it or not.”

Some of the changes are estimated to take effect within a week while others will take up to four weeks to complete.

Regulators say if they can't make the shopping site as transparent as it should be, they may scrap it all together.

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