Last week, The Dallas Morning News’ The Watchdog published an article exposing deceptive practices by Texas energy brokers and retail electric providers. The article talks of how these companies have attempted to lure buyers with deceptive 1-cent per kWh offers and websites that appear to be knockoffs of the public utility commission’s Power to Choose.
Variable Rate Plans: Designed as month-to-month contracts, these plans are in total control of your energy provider, which can shift the price you pay per kWh at its discretion. This means you, the consumer, are in a better place to reap the benefits when the energy market falls — but it also means you're at risk for hikes in prices, whether as a result of natural disasters or the provider's bottom line. Variable plans always offer a full year of price history to show the average price per kWh so you can get a sense of what you're getting into (like this one from Reliant) and know this: Variable plans don't have cancellation fees. You can cut your service at any time — a huge incentive for REPs to keep their prices reasonable.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) does it for you. When you sign up for a plan with a new provider, ERCOT will send you a mailer confirming the switch. You have three days upon receiving the mailer to change your mind. If you don't, you'll have a new provider within seven days, and ERCOT will notify your old provider. Just remember, if you abandon a contract before it's complete, you will be on the hook for any fees or penalties detailed in its Terms of Service.
If you’re thinking about looking for a better electricity plan for you, shop and compare retail electricity providers in your area. Our pick is Direct Energy.  With plans like Free Weekends and Direct-Your-Plan, an electricity plan tailor-made to your lifestyle, you can find the perfect option for you.  Direct Energy customers also benefit from rewards programs like Refer-A-Friend, energy saving insights from Direct Your Energy and access to home services and home protection plans.
The Public Utility Commission (PUC) has a website to help you find and compare all the electricity plans and providers in your area. Visit www.powertochoose.org or call 866-PWR-4-TEX (1-866-797-4839).  You can filter your options based on your usage, your preferred plan type, and several other factors. Once you’ve chosen the retail electricity provider that best suits your needs, you can sign up directly from their website.
Another positive environmental impact is the effect of higher energy prices on consumer choices, similar to the US market trend toward more fuel-efficient cars. As electric bills have risen, residents are reducing their electrical usage by using more moderate thermostat settings, installing insulation, installing solar screens, and other such activities. Texas utilities (such as Austin Energy) are also installing advanced electricity meters that may one day enable variable pricing based on the time of day. This would permit energy customers to save money by further tailoring their consumption based on whether it occurred during the peak demand period (high cost/high pollution) or the off-peak (night time).
Due to the increased usage of natural gas immediately after deregulation, new-era energy tools such as wind power and smart-grid technology were greatly aided. Texas' first "renewable portfolio standard" — or requirement that the state's utilities get a certain amount of their power from renewable energy like wind — was signed into law in 1999, as part of the same legislation that deregulated the electric market.
For example, if you use a small amount of energy each month, you expect to be rewarded — right? Unfortunately, nearly all electricity plans from Texas REPs are advertised as costing more per kWh the less electricity you use. It’s a little like buying in bulk: Providers often discount your bill when you cross certain kWh thresholds. For instance, one 12-month plan from StarTex Power quotes 8.1 cents per kWh for 1,000 kWh a month and 8.8 cents for 2,000 kWh per month, but 12.1 cents for 500 kWh per month. Why the difference? Customers get $35 back each month if they pass 1,000 kWh of use, and another $15 back per month if they cross 2,000 kWh. In this case, using half as much electricity as your neighbor on the same plan wouldn’t get you half the bill.
Some good news: According to J.D. Power’s 2016 survey on retail electric providers (its most current survey of the space), Texas has the highest overall satisfaction with retail electric providers out of any state. And because rates, plans, and offers can be so similar from provider to provider, customer satisfaction scores are a great way to break a tie. Think of it like choosing who to hire when you have two candidates with similar resumes — you’re going to pick the person with the glowing references.
As a renter, you’re likely concerned about getting your electricity contract’s start and end dates to match your lease term as close as possible. In most cases, your electricity provider will offer flexible start dates and some even offer same-day connections. If you can’t line up your electricity contract exactly with your lease term, it’s okay. It’s better to choose an electricity plan with a slightly longer contract term than your apartment lease if necessary. If you move and provide proof of a change in address, your electricity provider cannot charge you an early termination fee.
Likewise, if you opt for a plan like our StarTex Power example, but in some months only hit 990 kWh of energy use, the $35 discount for cresting $1,000 kWh won't apply — and your bill is going to show it. Picking the right plan for you requires two things: an intimate knowledge of your home’s typical energy use, and a critical eye on any plan’s fine print.
1. Legacy providers no longer rule. Get over the idea that original providers are the only companies that can offer solid, uninterrupted service. And don’t believe the fallacy that customers of legacy providers get serviced first when power goes out. Oncor Electric Delivery is responsible for maintaining the transmission system. Everybody uses Oncor to handle repairs in our region.
Since the Texas electricity market opened to competition in 2002, many Texas residents have had the opportunity to choose their own electricity provider. Instead of relying on their local utility to provide them with electricity, most Texans can choose from a variety of competitive providers, allowing them to shop around for the perfect electricity plan for their homes and lifestyles.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average household in Texas uses about 15,000 kWh of electricity per year — 26 percent more than the national average, “but similar to the amount used in neighboring states.” That said, the only way to know your personal average energy consumption is by looking at your electricity bills over the course of a year (you want to accommodate all weather conditions) and understanding both your overall usage, as well as if you use more or less during certain months.
Texas currently produces and consumes more electricity than any other state in the country. This energy consumption is due to its size, but the ample land makes it a major producer of wind power – a renewable, or green, energy source. The environmentally friendly energy created by wind power is available to many Texas residents to supply the electricity in their home or business.
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