Power Wizard, a new electricity shopping website in Houston, promotes itself as an independent voice on the side of consumers looking for low cost plans, providing unbiased advice to shoppers because Power Wizard has no ties with retail electric providers.
Except it does.
Power Wizard is owned by NextEra Energy, the nation’s biggest utility company, which also owns two retail electric providers in Houston, Frontier Utilities and Gexa Energy, according to registration records on file with the Texas Secretary of State and other public records. The chief executive officer of Power Wizard, Brian Landrum, is also president of Gexa, according to public records.
“It doesn’t sound very unbiased to me,” said Fred Anders, founder of Texas Power Guide in Houston, a website that helps consumers find the cheapest power plans.
Power Wizard, which was launched in February, is one of a growing number of concierge-like services in Texas that promise to find the best retail power deals for consumers. The growth in the industry reflects the confusion many Texas consumers face while shopping for power as they wade through gift card offers, free nights and weekend promotions, multi-tiered rates that change based on the number of kilowatt hours used and electricity brokers who promise they can find the best deals.
Brokers typically receive a commission from retail power companies for each consumer they place in an electricity plan. Brokers such as Power Wizard, however, which offer an on-going bill management service, typically charge customers a monthly service fee. In Power Wizard’s case, it’s $8 per month.
Power Wizard says on its website that it will navigate electricity buying for its customers as a “totally unbiased” partner. “We don’t have any alliances, relationships, or partnerships with any REPs,” referring to retail electric providers, according to Power Wizard.
But the address Power Wizard uses with the Texas Secretary of State is the same address of Florida Power & Light, another electricity company owned by NextEra Energy, according to the registration statement Power Wizard filed in February with the Texas Secretary of State.
All eight executives of Power Wizard work for NextEra, including five who list Florida Power & Light’s address in Juno Beach, Fla. as their business address, according to Power Wizard’s broker application to the Texas Public Utility Commission. Three of the executives, including Power Wizard’s CEO, chief financial offer and assistant vice president of regulatory affairs list NextEra or Gexa addresses in Houston on the registration form Power Wizard filed in August.
Gexa spokeswoman Ashley DePaolo said that Power Wizard is an affiliate of NextEra, but operates independently of other NextEra business units, including the retail operations of Gexa and Frontier. Power Wizard is not influenced by any retail energy provider or energy broker, regardless of ownership, she said.
But after being contacted by the Houston Chronicle, Power Wizard removed the claims from its website that it has no ties with retail electric providers.
As to whether Power Wizard puts customers in Gexa or Frontier plans, DePaolo would not say. PowerWizard selects the best electricity plan on behalf of its members regardless of the retail energy provider, she said.
Electricity brokers have largely escaped scrutiny in Texas, but a law enacted during the most recent legislative session requires brokers to register with the commission and comply with consumer protection rules and marketing guidelines. The registration deadline was Sept. 1 and about 1,000 brokers have signed up, according to commission records.
The commission has proposed new regulations for brokers and asked for comments, which will be incorporated into a new rule that will oversee electricity brokers.
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