HOUSTON – We protect our homes and property by locking doors and gates. We put passwords on accounts with sensitive information. But KPRC 2 Investigates discovered there’s nothing you can do to protect your electric service from getting canceled or switched without your consent. It happened to one Northshore man who contacted our team for help. What we found out about your rights and your electricity service might surprise you.
Surprise change to electricity bill
Shawn Rial was locked in a 3-year fixed-rate electricity contract at 5 cents a Kwh with Discount Power, or so he thought.
“I’ve been with a discount for probably seven, eight years,” he said.
But Rial recently received a postcard in the mail with his address and his meter number and someone else’s name. It reads, “ERCOT has been notified that you have chosen to change your retail electric provider to Clean Sky Energy.”
“I didn’t know what to think at first,” Rial explained.
That same day Rial received a $399 bill from Discount Power that included a $300 early termination fee. Rial followed the instructions on the postcard and filed complaints with Discount Power and Clean Sky. Both told him they would investigate and get him switched back to discount as soon as possible. But Discount Power told him the whole process could take up to two billing cycles or 60 days.
“So technically, I don’t really know what I’m paying for electricity at this very moment,” said Rial. “I could be paying 15 cents right now and I normally pay five.”
How could the electricity get switched without consent?
We reached out to Clean Sky Energy. The chief operating officer told us it appears Shawn’s electricity was accidentally switched when someone called in and gave the wrong address to sign up for service. Discount Power told him he was on the hook for the early termination fee until the investigation was complete.
“It’s a slippery slope that I’m on because I’m just kind of in the middle of two companies basically saying, ‘we’ll get back to you,’” he said.
As for preventing these types of accidental or unauthorized switches in the first place, a representative with the Texas Public Utility Commission told us there are several protections against unauthorized customer switching in TAC Ch. 25, Subchapter R, Customer Protection Rules for Retail Electric Service. In this rule, it explains electric providers are required to ask customers for specific information before switching service, like their social security number, mother’s maiden name, service address and their driver’s license number.
No word on how Shawn’s switch was an accident if all of that information was provided.
We told Rial to file a complaint with the Public Utility Commission right away.
Your rights if your electricity is switched without your consent
The Texas Administrative code says when any retail electric provider receives a customer complaint through the PUC it shall “cease any collection activity related to the alleged unauthorized switch until the complaint has been resolved.”
It also says, “The customer shall pay no more than the price they would have been billed has the unauthorized switch not occurred.”
“It can happen to anybody. There’s no safety net, with any company with any person,” said Rial.
Making companies aware that you know the law and what they are required to follow is half the battle. If you have a problem with your electricity provider, you can file a complaint with the PUC here.