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PUC Staff Recommends Granting TPV Waivers To Allow Retail Supplier To Use Digital TPV, Subject To Conditions

August 9, 2019

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Copyright 2010-19
Reporting by Paul Ring •

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Staff of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio have recommended that PUCO approve, with additional conditions proposed by Staff, an application from Direct Energy Business, LLC and Direct Energy Services, LLC of certain rules governing the third-party verification (TPV) process for new customers enrolled through sales channels requiring TPV, to allow for a "digital" TPV process

Direct Energy's request for the waivers had been exclusively first reported by (story here)

The requested waivers would enable Direct to offer customers the ability to complete the verification process through a digital confirmation platform.

Direct had said that the proposed digital confirmation process will function much like traditional voice TPV. The main difference is that the verifier’s interaction with the customer will occur through text or internet prompts rather than voice communication. A geolocation feature built into the digital TPV platform will prevent the customer from starting the verification process until the salesperson has left the property.

Direct's full digital TPV process was described in detail in our prior story (click here). Direct said in comments filed with PUCO that it has augmented the program, as further described below.

PUCO Staff did state that, "Staff does have concerns about the ability to identify the accurate location of the customer in relation to the sales representative."

"However, Staff believes that there may be benefits of lessons learned from approval of this waiver and it intends to monitor customer complaints regarding this enrollment process closely," Staff said

As such Staff recommended that the Commission grant the waiver with several conditions

"While the waiver application is not initially clear in its purpose, it appears that the Applicant is requesting a waiver from conducting a verbal TPV. In doing so, it appears that the Applicant is requesting to confirm customer enrollment through a link provided via text message or email, while following the existing rule requirements for competitive electric and natural gas third-party verifications. With that understanding, Staff believes that the list of disclosures and permissions required by the rules should match those provided to the customer through the digital platform. Staff also recommends that the format and content of the digital verification be submitted for review prior to its availability to customers," Staff said

Staff specifically listed its proposed conditions as follows:

1. Only the verbal requirement included in Ohio Adm.Code 4901:1-21- 06(D)(1)(h), 4901:1-21-06(D)(2)(a), 4901:1-29-06(D)(6)(b) and 4901:1-29- 06(E)(1), be waived.

2. All other requirements and disclosures for telephonic and door-to-door third-party verification be met using text through the digital platform.

3. That the waiver expires when the Commission issues its final rules in Case No. 17-1843-EL-ORD and 17-1847-GA-ORD (concerning customer protections, enrollment, etc.).

The Ohio Consumers' Counsel said that PUCO should reject the petition for the waivers.

Among other concerns, OCC said that, "the geolocation function in Direct Energy’s proposal might not accurately determine whether the salesperson has left the customer’s home, which could thwart the consumer protections in the PUCO’s rules."

OCC said that global positioning systems are accurate between three and 15 meters (about ten feet to 50 feet), and thus even a variance of ten feet could mean that the geolocation function inaccurately shows whether the salesperson has left the customer’s home.

Direct Energy provided an update concerning its digital TPV process since Direct first filed for the waiver in 2018.

Direct Energy said that it has since augmented the process for validating enrollments with a process that also validates the identity of the enrollee. At the beginning of the process, the customer enters their name. At the end of the process, they enter their date of birth. This information is validated by the system and compares the name and address provided by the customer with the address and phone number entered by the sales agent. The customer-provided date of birth offers additional identity validation in the event of disputed enrollments and ensures that customers undergoing verification are who they say they are.

Direct said that it is now using digital TPV in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maryland, and Delaware

"Digital TPV is accomplishing its intended purpose in each of these jurisdictions. Nearly 23,000 enrollments have been processed with digital TPV, compared to approximately 51,000 voice-based verifications. Importantly, the more efficient digital verification process has not resulted in a decline in the 'quality' of enrollments. With voice-based TPV, 75% of customers ultimately verified that they wished to enroll with Direct Energy. With digital TPV, the percentage increased slightly to 78%. The similarity in outcomes (i.e., percentage of customers successfully verified) between voice-based and digital TPV demonstrates that customers are not rushing through or ignoring digital verification questions or prompts," Direct Energy said

Case No. 18-0382-GE-WVR

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