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.
To do so, we used five of the state’s largest electricity companies to explore six things you'll have to evaluate when you're comparing plans and providers: We’ll walk you through customer satisfaction scores, running the numbers on rates, and calculating the impact of different fees, discounts, and contract types. We'll weigh in on extra perks, like points, and green energy too.
CenterPoint Intelligent Energy Solutions LLC, IES, which manages TrueCost, is not the same legal entity as CenterPoint Energy Resources Corp. (CERC) or CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric, LLC (CEHE), nor is IES regulated by the Railroad Commission of Texas or the Public Utility Commission of Texas. You do not have to buy products or services from IES in order to continue to receive quality regulated services from CERC or CEHE.
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.
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.
†Offer is available to Texas residential customers who enroll using the Promotion Code “NIGHTSFREE”. Plan bills a monthly Base Charge, an Energy Charge, and passes through Utility Transmission and Distribution delivery charges. Energy Charges for usage consumed between 9pm and 7am each day is credited back on your bill. The utility charges, including delivery charges for night time hours, are passed through at cost and aggregated on your bill. See Electricity Facts Label for details.
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.
The local electric company is the utility – that’s the company who owns the infrastructure, including the poles and power lines that deliver electricity to your home. They are who you call if your power goes out or there's an emergency. But in almost every city in Texas, you must choose another company to supply that energy, called a Retail Electric Provider (REP). These REPs, like Spark Energy, allow you to choose electricity plans that offer competitive prices and plans to meet your needs.
Recently, several retail electricity suppliers and brokers have begun incorporating the words “power to choose” in online advertising, web URLs, and web content that is indexed by search engines. This could skew the search results for consumers entering the term “power to choose,” directing them to websites run by brokers and suppliers rather than by the PUCT.
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.
Since the electricity market opened, more and more electricity providers have entered the market with various plans and products. Direct Energy and their affiliated brands: Bounce Energy , First Choice Power, and CPL Retail Energy offer a multitude of electricity plans and benefits so customers can find the electricity plan that best fits their needs. While it’s great to have so many options, it can be difficult and confusing to choose an electricity plan. With choices like fixed-rate, variable-rate, and prepaid plans, as well as varying price options, term lengths and rewards, shopping for an electricity plan can be an overwhelming task.
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.
To do so, we used five of the state’s largest electricity companies to explore six things you'll have to evaluate when you're comparing plans and providers: We’ll walk you through customer satisfaction scores, running the numbers on rates, and calculating the impact of different fees, discounts, and contract types. We'll weigh in on extra perks, like points, and green energy too.
1Offer valid for new residential customers in Texas only. Provisioned smart meter required. Free power begins on Fridays at 6:00 PM and ends Sunday at 11:59 PM. To utilize all features of the Echo Dot, you will need an 'always on' Wi-Fi internet service. If you cancel your plan early there's a fee of $135. You cannot return your Echo Dot to avoid the early cancellation fee. Terms and Conditions apply. All Amazon trademarks and copyrights are property of Amazon.com or its affiliates. The Echo Dot is provided by Direct Energy, Amazon is not a sponsor of this energy plan offer.
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.
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.

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.
If your monthly use hovers around the 2,000 kWh mark, you’ll be spending around $2,000 per year on electricity bills no matter which REP you choose. With that level of investment, you may be tempted by an offer to get something extra in return — like rewards. Direct Energy is notable because it’s a part of American Express’s Plenti rewards program. For every dollar you spend on your Direct Energy plan, you earn a “Plenti point,” which you can then redeem on purchases with retail partners like Macy’s, AT&T, and Exxon.
Utility companies are responsible for transmission and delivery of electricity even in energy deregulated parts of Texas and should be contacted in the event of a power outage. Your retail energy supplier may provide you competitive electric rates or exceptional customer service, but they cannot repair power lines or restore your service. In the case of an emergency, contact:
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