"Power to Choose" vendor responds

Today we wrote about a change in the The Power To Choose Web site that had been a helpful tool for many Texans shopping for electricity. The state-sponsored site was run by a Massachusetts firm, Nexus Energy Software, but on Dec. 1 the state ended that contract, saying Nexus had deals with some retailers where Nexus was paid to sign up new customers through links on the Web site.

Tilford Vik, a Houston electric customer who has shopped around.

As we said today:

[Public Utility Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman] said PUC staffers have told him the state’s contract with Nexus doesn’t seem to prohibit the arrangements.
But they undermined the notion that the site was an impartial source for power price information, Smitherman said.
“We never envisioned that the vendor would do this, give preferential treatment to some retailers for a fee,” Smitherman said. “I would think a reasonable person would expect that kind of activity wouldn’t occur on this site.”

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Richard Huntley, vice president of the communications segment for ESCO, which owns Nexus, told the Chronicle today the links in question were no secret.
The site was intended to help stimulate consumers changing providers, thus the extra feature allowing one to start the sign-up process from the site through a Nexus-backed link has been a part of the site since it launched in 2002, he said. But not every electric retailer chose to become a “merchant partner,” which included Nexus getting a fee for each new customer that came through the site.
“Some [retail electric companies] took us up on it, some didn’t, but there was no difference in the data presented,” said Huntley.
So why did this long-standing situation change? Huntley’s not sure.
“It appears they decided they didn’t like that. Whether it was because they really thought the site should not be more than an informational portal, I don’t know,” Huntley said.
The state is trying hard to restore the full range of functions to the Web site, but Huntley said the company would still be available to work with the PUC again.
“Our phone line is still open,” he said.