7. Pick your poison. Deeper in the website you see a search box along the left side. Under “Plan Type,” a recommended pick is fixed, but you can also choose a variable or an indexed market rate. (The Watchdog likes fixed since market conditions can grow volatile.) Under “Price,” type in a range from 4 cents to 12 cents. That’s a good spread. Pick a contract length. Fill out the other boxes. Then hit “Refresh Results” on the bottom. Keep trying different combinations to see what the prices are that day. They change often.
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 2002, the majority of Texans have had to choose their own Retail Electric Provider (REP) – the middleman that buys electricity wholesale, then sells it to you, the consumer. According to the Public Utility Commission of Texas’ 2017 report, the Lone Star state is “the national leader in competitive residential, commercial, and industrial offerings,” which means there are well over 200 providers bidding for your attention.
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.
Oncor, the state’s largest distribution utility which covers Dallas, Fort Worth and much of North Texas, has already agreed to pass all of the millions of dollars of expected tax savings along to consumers. Oncor agreed to pass the savings along to customers as part of a rate review which is a formal process in which the PUC reviews the appropriateness of rates being charged by the utility. No exact details have been determined with respect to how the savings will be passed along. The rate review was actually completed before the tax reform bill was passed but there was a commitment in principle to passing along the savings. It’s not yet know exactly how much Oncor will save from the lower corporate tax rates but with a $245 million tax bill in 2017 future saving are likely to be in the tens of millions of dollars.
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.
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.
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.