Texas electric users shop on the Web

If energy deregulation ever becomes the norm across the nation and electricity customers need to choose their supplier, Texas may be showing them how they can do that most easily on the Web.

Since the electric retail market in the state was opened up to competition Jan. 1, customers have been able to comparison shop for the best prices on the Texas Electric Choice Web site (www.powertochoose.org), which is overseen by the state's Power Utility Commission (PUC).

The Web site first went up at the beginning of last year and has been the primary source of a public information campaign run by the commission. In its first month of operation, it received 32,813 unique visitors and more than 1.8 million hits. In January of this year, the numbers soared to 98,540 visitors and close to 5 million hits.

"Given the limited budget the PUC has for education, the number of media hits it can achieve [with advertising] is not that great," said Gary Rasp, a spokesman for Texas Electric Choice. "You can't do much to raise the general awareness of electric choice otherwise, so the Web site has become the source of neutral information on the subject."

All the advertising the organization has done on television and other media, and on inserts provided with the bills of the state's 5.9 million electric customers, has referred to the Web site, he said.

The site offers general information about the industry and the electricity providers, but customers also can now get a comparison of rates, the terms of competing providers and an estimated price differential between them.

It also shows environmentally concerned buyers where they can get "green" energy. One such provider, named Green Mountain Energy Co., provides power from renewable energy resources.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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