Power Meltdown: Some reader Q&A UPDATED

Answers to some questions readers have asked here and in comments on our stories regarding power company failures.
Q: “Is there a way to get a list of the companies that are in trouble but have not died yet?”
A: No. Consumer advocates have asked the PUC/Legislature to create a report card for retailers but to no avail.
Q: “I was with National and they sent me a bill. Normally it’s drafted from my credit card so do I need to call the CC company and have them stop payment to National for my May bill?”
A: It’s hard say why they didn’t just draw it from the credit card as usual. Here’s an updated statement from the PUC regarding whether you should pay your latest National Power bill:

The customer’s priority is to make arrangements with a new provider. Customers who have an outstanding bill with National Power should pay the bill if it is correct and they have not paid a deposit. If they have legitimate reasons for disputing the amount of the bill or have a refund of a deposit that is owed them, they should contact National Power to get the issues resolved. The PUC is working with National Power to ensure that the company returns the unused portion of customer deposits and to see that all customers are properly credited and pay only for the electricity they use while a National Power customer. However, customers should recognize that National Power is going out of business and may not have sufficient cash to pay customer deposits that are owed to them.

Q: “Riverway said I’d get a bill from them with the old rate, however now after reading this article it looks like I’ll be switched to POLR for last months bill. I switched this morning but all of the providers are saying expedited switch will be at end of the month no matter what. Do you think that is right?? Doesn’t seem very expedited to me.”
A: You shouldn’t get charged a POLR rate for last month’s bill. POLR rates won’t go into effect until you are actually put on that plan, which is supposed to happen between now and Saturday morning.
As far as expediting the switch, many companies are setting up special processes to make it happen more quickly for people facing “POLR”-ization. Tell them you’re hoping to avoid being on POLR, that you want an “off-cycle meter read” and will waive your notification rights (where they essentially send you a post card to make sure you want to switch). If the customer service people don’t know what you’re talking about you should ask to talk to a manager (they should know this by now) or write back to me (tom.fowler@chron.com) telling me which company it is.
Q: “I transferred to Reliant last week from Riverway. Reliant told me today my transfer could not be expedited with a meter read scheduled June 15. Will my account be transferred to a POLR in the two week interim? If so, will the scheduled transfer take place regardless of any POLR assignment? Finally, will the rate for my current bill reflect the date of transfer and be prorated with a combination of Riverway rates and the assigned provider or will the assigned provider apply the new rate to the entire period?”
A: The June 15 switch date doesn’t seem out of the ordinary although some companies are doing it more quickly. It largely depends on how fast the company that runs the power distribution system (i.e. CenterPoint in Houston, Oncor in Dallas/Ft. Worth) can get meter readers out there.
If you already have signed up with a new provider you might still end up paying a POLR rate for a few days, but you should still get switched back to the other company.
It seems possible you could end up with three bills for just one week of electric service depending on how the POLR switch goes: 1. a bill from Riverway based on your old rate with them. 2. a bill from whomever the POLR provider is for the days you’re on that plan until switching to a new provider and 3. a bill from the new provider.
And some explanation… A number of readers are complaining that they are trying to sign up with Direct Energy for a rate posted on their Web site but are told they can’t get it because they are coming from a POLR. A spokeswoman with the company explained the lowest rate they have is one that you sign up for online. To take on a POLR customer requires manually making changes in their records/systems and thus means they need to use their call center staff.
The cheapest rates for most companies sometimes are the ones that use the fewest people, i.e. sign up online, pay with automatic withdrawal from a credit card/bank account etc., so this explanation is more or less in line with what we’ve seen others do.
More questions? Keep asking and we’ll try to find answers.
A few more Q’s and A’s…
Q: Regarding deposits…how does it work if I paid a deposit with Riverway and other companies are requiring me to pay one again? I shouldn’t have to pay two deposits in less than 3 months for electricity service? I’m just going to have to bit the bullett and pay it? Will I get the money back from Riverway?
A: Unfortunately, one may have to pay more than one deposit, says the PUC. Companies are supposed to refund the balance of your deposit within seven days of doing the final meter read on the account before a switch, the PUC says. If they don’t do that, you should file a complaint with the PUC.
Q: I am a Riverway customer getting the ax and tried to switch to Gexa today. Neither the regular customer support person or the manager could help with the “off cycle meter reading”. They said they could only do the normal switch which would take 4-6 weeks.
A: The customer service reps at many companies haven’t been fully informed about all the procedures they can use to help customers. We’ll call Gexa in the a.m. to see if they can get that fixed.
**UPDATE: Gexa official tells us that prior to Riverway being declared POLR, they could not offer those customers anything other than a normal switch, per market rules. Now that they are POLR, Gexa can offer the off-cycle switch. The exact number of days required would vary based on when a customer enrolls, but it should be available within three business days for customers, depending on what time in a day they enroll etc.**
Q: If we can be switched to a POLR within a couple of days why can’t we be switched to a provider of our choice in the same time frame?
A: My guess is because the POLR switch is more a matter of ERCOT figuratively taking a shovel and moving a bunch of customers over to providers, not the providers getting to select customers individually. I’ll ask them for a better explanation and get back to you.