Gone are the days when you had to contact electric companies to discover their rates, and negotiate a better deal on your own. Today, Vault Electricity does the work for you, handling the entire process of finding the best Texas electricity rates and plans from providers that have a pedigree of business stability, customer service, eco-friendliness, and financial transparency. This allows you to shop for electricity in just a few minutes, right from your computer.
Minimum Usage Fees: Often set at or around 1,000 kWh/month, these fees mean you’ll always pay for at least that amount — even if you only use, say, 800 kWh of electricity some months. It sounds nasty, but it’s only something to be concerned about if your electricity bills historically show you hover right around that minimum use threshold. If you’re electricity use always exceeds that amount, it’s like it’s not even there.
The power to switch is all about knowing your rights as an electric customer. In Texas, the electricity market is deregulated. Instead of only being able to get electricity from the utility and then paying the rates the utility requires, Texas retail electricity providers buy energy from generators at wholesale prices. Providers then compete with each other to offer consumers more options in terms of their electricity plans. Every electricity consumer in Texas' deregulated markets has to choose a retail electricity provider, but once you choose you don't have to stay with that provider forever. You have the power to switch electricity providers to find the best service and the best rates to meet your electric needs.
Which ones the best? Like all things energy, it depends. Do you prefer predictability, or do you like the idea of potentially saving some cash by monitoring the market? Our (albeit conservative) recommendation: Fixed rate is probably best. Energy prices are on the rise — the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts a 3 percent increase in residential electricity prices in 2018.
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.
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).
As you choose your energy plan, you might want to consider a variable-rate plan. The wholesale price for electricity changes constantly and a variable rate allows you to take advantage of its ups and downs. When prices are low, your electricity rate can drop to reflect the market change. On the other hand, electricity prices can rise, causing you to pay a higher rate.
One of the biggest benefits of deregulation is your right to choose an energy company that offers renewable power. Essentially, you can choose an energy supply that includes up to 100 percent green energy, which is generated with clean resources such as sun or wind. If supporting Texas is important to you, you can even choose your electric provider based on where it gets its green energy. Many providers offer renewable electricity that comes from Texas wind farms.
Final switch tips. When you make your final selection, don’t call your current electricity provider to cancel. Sign up with the new company only. Try to sign up at least five to seven days before your plan expires so the overlap between the two billing cycles is negligible. Some people switch too late and pay higher prices during the transition. If you have a smart meter, the state rule is you must be switched within 48 hours. But five to seven days is safer.
Not understanding the system, I overpaid — but I quickly grew tired of that. I decided to educate myself. Eventually, I figured out a system. My Watchdog Nation Guide to Electricity Savings is built on the idea that companies should be judged two ways — by lowest rate and by company reputation. When the stars align, the right company is obvious. (Note: This doesn’t apply to customers in mandatory electricity co-ops or municipal-owned utilities.)
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.
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