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.
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.
Shopping for a plan based on renewable sources is no different than shopping for any other kind of plan — you calculate your costs the same way, look for the same fees, and weigh in customer satisfaction and other perks. The one thing that’s different is also looking at what percentage of your energy comes from renewable content in the EFL. That number can swing from as low as 0 percent all the way up to 100 percent, with the majority of plans that partially offset energy with renewable content hovering around 15 percent.
8. Study the results. For the selection cited above, several dozen companies recently offered rates in that range. Remember that the lowest rates could come from a company with a poor reputation, but more on that later. Contract lengths varied from one to 36 months. Each service plan comes with links to “Terms of Service,” “Facts Sheet,” “Signup” and “Special Terms.” When you click on these, you learn the nitty-gritty details. Many companies have minimums about the amount of power you must use, or you pay more. Carefully look for language about other fees.
No worries. It’s always a good idea to shop for a new electricity plan when you are moving to see if there is a better deal on electricity available. But, if you are happy with your current electric rate, most electricity providers will gladly keep you as a customer and continue service under your current contract at your new apartment or house as long as you move within the same utility delivery area. Don’t worry about early termination fees. If you are moving, your electricity provider cannot charge you an early termination fee if you provide a valid proof of a change of address thanks to customer protection rules established by the Public Utility Commission of Texas.
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.
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.
Given the wide selection of electricity plans available, how do renters choose the best electricity plan? The key to finding the best plan is to have an idea about how much electricity you use and select the contract length that is close to your rental contract term. Typical apartment electricity plans are best for 500 – 1000 kWh usage per month and 1 – 12 month contract term lengths. Enter your zip code above to search and compare apartment electricity plans with this criteria.
The complaints filed against providers aren't a perfect mirror of the J.D. Power customer satisfactions scores. Just Energy, which earned only two J.D. Power Circles and earned the second-lowest score, had only 21 complaints recorded with the Public Utility Commission. But it's helpful to view these complaints in aggregate: Over 50 percent of the 1,119 total complaints fall under "billing" — another reason to seek out a provider with high customer satisfaction in that area in particular.
9. Check out your favorite. After you find a company with a rate and contract length you like, learn more about it. One way is to do an Internet search of the company. Place the company’s name in various searches beside these search terms: scam, rip-off and complaints. If the company has a troubled history, find out before you sign up. If only a few results come up from disgruntled customers, don’t worry. But if there are several dozen, continue with a quick search of the company’s Better Business Bureau record. And then, most important, return to powertochoose.org and below the name of the company, you’ll see “Complaint Scorecard” and “Complaint History.” Click on those links and learn more about the company.
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.
The ability to make an electric power switch gives Texas energy consumers the freedom to shop and search for a new rate. Texans switch power providers for a number of reasons. You may choose to switch power supply providers because you move to a new utility area that your current retail provider doesn't service. Maybe you switch power providers because you're unhappy with your current provider's level of customer service. Maybe your reason for switching is simply to find a better rate than what you have now. Whatever your reason may be, you have the power to switch electricity providers.
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.
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.)
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