As a result, 85% of Texas power consumers (those served by a company not owned by a municipality or a utility cooperative) can choose their electricity service from a variety of retail electric providers (REPs), including the incumbent utility. The incumbent utility in the area still owns and maintains the local power lines (and is the company to call in the event of a power outage) and is not subject to deregulation. Customers served by cooperatives or municipal utilities can choose an alternate REP only if the utility has "opted in" to deregulation; to date, only the area served by the Nueces Electric Cooperative has chosen to opt in.
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In order to prompt entry into the market, the price to beat would have to be high enough to allow for a modest profit by new entrants. Thus, it had to be above the cost of inputs such as natural gas and coal. For example, a price to beat fixed at the actual wholesale procurement price of electricity does not give potential entrants a margin to compete against incumbent utilities. Second, the price to beat would have to be reasonably low, to enable as many customers as possible to continue to consume electricity during the transition period.
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.
One desired effect of the competition is lower electricity rates. In the first few years after the deregulation in 2002, the residential rate for electricity increased seven times, with the price to beat at around 15 cents per kilowatt hour (as of July 26, 2006, www.powertochoose.org) in 2006. However, while prices to customers increased 43% from 2002 to 2004, the costs of inputs rose faster, by 63%, showing that not all increases have been borne by consumers. (See Competition and entry of new firms above for discussion on the relationship between retail prices, inputs, and investment.)
In this free market competing electricity retailers buy electricity wholesale from private power generators to sell at retail to around 85% of Texas residents. The partnership between generators and retailers is governed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which attempts to balance the power grid’s electricity supply and demand by purchasing small amounts of electricity at 15-minute intervals throughout the day.