Regulators crack down on power companies that don’t offer same deals to English, Spanish speakers

By: L.M. Sixel |

State regulators put retail electricity providers on notice Friday that if they don’t offer the same electricity plans to their Spanish-speaking customers as they do to their English-speaking ones, the Public Utility Commission will yank them off the state’s Power to Choose website, where millions of Texans shop for power.

Commission Chairman DeAnn Walker said that retail electric providers have until 8 a.m. Monday to offer the same electricity plans on both websites. Of the 57 electricity providers on the English version of Power to Choose, only 23 offered plans on the Spanish language site, Poder de Escoger, according to the Public Utility Commission.

“I’m not happy with that at all,” said Walker. “They’re not going to have one on the English and not on the Spanish.”

The state-managed website Power to Choose website has become 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.

“It limits the ability of Spanish speakers to get good deals ,” said R.A. Dyer, policy analyst for the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power in Austin, a group of cities that buy electricity in deregulated markets. “It’s absolutely imperative that Spanish language consumers have the same options and the same choices as everyone else.”

Mustafa Tameez, managing director of Outreach Strategists, a Houston firm that consults with companies and nonprofits on diversity, said the practice of bypassing the Spanish language electricity shopping site was akin to redlining, when banks would draw red circles around neighborhoods, typically minority, in which they’d refuse to make loans or provide other financial services.

They’ve gotten away with charging people more who may not understand that by choosing the right electric company, one can save a substantial amount on their monthly bill,” said Tameez. “Forty-one percent of Harris County is Latino and if you are willing to find a way to charge a group of people more money just because they don’t speak the language, then we should all know who those companies are.”

On Friday afternoon, the English version of Power to Choose offered shoppers in Houston three plans with rates of 8.2 cents per kilowatt hour for 1,000 kilowatt hours and 14 with rates of 8.3 cents per kilowatt hour. But Poder de Escoger had only one plan for 8.2 cents per kilowatt hour and two plans for 8.3 cents.

Discount Power of Houston had a plan for 8.3 cents per kilowatt hour on the English language version of Power to Choose, but no offerings on the Spanish language version. A customer service representative said any requirements of the Public Utility Commission would be met by the deadline.

Infuse Energy is one of Houston’s low-cost leaders. On Friday afternoon, the Houston-based electricity retailer offered an 8.2 cents per kilowatt hour plan on the English language Power to Choose website, but had no offerings on the Spanish language site.

By Friday evening, however, Infuse listed three low-cost offers on the Spanish language site, including one for 8.2 cents per kilowatt hour and two for 8.3 cents. Infuse did not respond to a request for comment.

Gexa Energy, owned by Florida-based NextEra Energy, offered an 8.3 cents per kilowatt plan on the English version of Power to Choose, but had no offerings on the Spanish language version. The company said it would not comment.

Regulators crack down on power companies that don’t offer same deals to English, Spanish speakers