Fixed-rate plans: Fixed-rate plans give customers more stability for their monthly energy bills because the rate a customer signs up with is the rate he or she pays for the length of the plan’s contract. Most fluctuation comes with usage, though transmission and delivery charges and local fees also can change.. Because a fixed-rate plan sometimes spans two-three years, these plans often require a customer credit check and can include early cancellation fees. Fixed-rate plans, because of the continuing market volatility, probably are the best choice for many consumers.
After Senate Bill 7 went into effect in January 2002, nearly 6 million power customers became eligible to choose their energy supplier. That number has grown through the years. By deregulating the state’s energy market, the Texas Senate gave constituents the power to choose. The process of energy deregulation in Texas dismantled the utilities’ monopoly over the electric market and encouraged customers to explore their energy options.
As they’re advertised, the Digital Discount plan appears to save you $4 — but only if you use 32 percent of your energy on the weekends, which is the stat Reliant used to create the average price it advertises. Say you often travel for business during the week, and are only home cranking the air conditioner on weekends. If your energy use skews to 55 percent weekend use (for Reliant, that means 8 pm on Friday through 12 am Monday), suddenly Truly Free Weekends becomes a much better deal.
4. Know your current contract terms. Before you shop, know what you already have. (Surprisingly, most people don’t.) What’s your kwh rate? Check your electric bill. It may be higher than what’s available elsewhere. (In Texas, last week it ranged from 4.9 cents to as high as 13.5 cents.) Also call your provider and ask for the date your contract expires. Find out whether your rate is fixed or variable. Start planning a possible switch a month before a contract expires.
Like we said, fees don’t necessarily make for a bad plan — although it’s worth it to do the math to see if you can save with another provider. For example, compare TXU Energy’s Simple Rate 12 plan with its $9.95 base charge, alongside Direct Energy’s Live Brighter 12 plan with a smaller base charge, and Reliant’s Digital Discount plan with no base charge. We’ll use a Corpus Christi ZIP code and assume 1,000 kWh/month of energy use.
For example, shoppers for Texas electricity plans in the 77494 ZIP code in Katy, TX, could find 12-month plans for 6.8 cents/kWh in February; by June, electricity rates had increased 27 percent to 9.3 cents/kWh. As of early September, 12-month plans were up again, to 9.9 cents/kWh – a 6.5 percent hike from June and a 46 percent increase just since February.
Since Texas' electricity market was deregulated in the late nineties, multiple Retail Electric Providers (REP) have either launched in Texas, or providers in other states have begun to extend their reach to Texas residents (e.g., Spark Energy, which was founded in Texas). These electricity providers are providing less expensive and/or greener electricity alternatives to traditional sources of energy, in contrast with the supply consumers previously received by default through their local utility. Customers now have the option to receive their electric supply from providers other than their utility, known as alternative retail electric providers.
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.
While no company is perfect, we think an energy provider that owns up to mistakes and tries to treat customers fairly is a good thing for customers and for the deregulated energy industry. If a company isn't taking responsibility, we want the market competition to push them to be better, and customer reviews from energy consumers and ratepayers just like you makes that possible.
One of the benchmarks of a successful free market is the range of choice provided to customers. Choice can be viewed both in terms of the number of firms active in the market as well as the variety of products those firms offer to consumers. In the first decade of retail electric deregulation in Texas, the market experienced dramatic changes in both metrics. In 2002, residential customers in the Dallas-Fort area could choose between 10 retail electric providers offers a total of 11 price plans. By the end of 2012, there were 45 retail electric providers offering 258 different price plans to residential customers in that market. Similar increases in the number of retail electric providers and available plans have been realized in other deregulated electricity market areas with the state.
And just like with any plan, it’s worth it to do the math to see how different scenarios will affect your bill. Take, for example, a home in Sweetwater that uses about 1,000 kWh of energy per month, and is interested in the Texas Essentials 12 plan. Zero percent renewable energy is the cheapest option — but by committing to a $5 monthly charge for its 100 percent “JustGreen” option, it’s actually cheaper than the 60 percent hybrid renewable option.
Fixed-rate supply plans offer price-protected supply rates for the length of a term agreement. The price per kilowatt hour (kWh) will remain the same throughout your term, even if the market price fluctuates. A fixed-rate supply plan can range from three months to five years, so it’s important to find the term length that works best for your situation.