Consumers in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and Corpus Christi were promised bargains on electricity when the Texas Legislature deregulated the electricity market. But 16 years later they're still paying more for electricity than their counterparts in cities Texas lawmakers exempted from deregulation such as Austin and San Antonio, according to the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power which analyzed federal electricity pricing data.
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.
Even though customers in deregulated Texas markets routinely pay more for electricity, there is a bright spot. The gap between the average price paid for electricity between deregulated and regulated market has shrunk to 8.8 percent. In 2006, customers in deregulated cities were paying nearly 47 percent more for electricity than their counterparts in regulated cities.
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.
Once you sign up for your new energy plan, your local utility will be notified of the change and begin your service from the alternative supplier at the beginning of your next billing cycle. Upon starting your energy supply service, your utility company will include this charge on your energy bill and continue to charge for the delivery service portion of your bill. Why? Because although your supplier may offer you a competitive rate for electricity supply, your utility is still in charge of the infrastructure that delivers energy to your home – such as power lines and energy meters.
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Electric bills for customers in the Houston area can more than double in summer months, mainly because air conditioning. Not coincidentally, electric rates also rise in the summer months because of this increase in demand. The most dramatic rate increases occur in month-to-month plans, but electric rates do increase across the board for all fixed-rate contract lengths.
TDU Delivery Charge: TDU stands for transmission and delivery utility — in other words, the utility company in your area that is actually piping the energy from the power generation companies into your home. (Remember, REPs in Texas are just the middleman.) The TDU delivery charge is set by the utility and is consistent from plan to plan and provider to provider within its service areas. For example, AEP , the TDU for Corpus Christi, charges the same delivery fee for all TXU, Direct Energy, and Reliant plans. You don't typically get a choice in utility company, and therefore, these fees are pretty much unavoidable, non-negotiable, and won't factor into choosing an electricity plan or provider.
Price, of course. Prices are expressed in cents/kilowatt hour. Plan types include fixed rates and variable rates. Fixed rates offer consistency throughout the plan term, which can run from six to 36 months. Variable rates can change monthly - they're great when prices go down, but not-so-great when they don't. Finally, if you care about your carbon footprint, you may choose a plan sourced by solar or wind energy.
In Houston, 0% of people have switched to a plan that has some renewable energy component to it. Another 0% have switched to a plan that is partially renewable, while 0% have switched to a plan that powers homes completely by renewable electricity. This of course means that 100% of people have remained on a plan powered by traditional sources of electricity such as coal or nuclear power.
Customers can find deals in competitive electricity markets if they take the time and effort to look at web sites such as powertochoose.org, the official comparison shopping site of the Public Utility Commission. The study cited a PUC survey of retail electricity offerings in Houston that showed nine deals in March that were lower than the regulated price of electricity in San Antonio.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average household in Texas uses about 15,000 kWh of electricity per year — 26 percent more than the national average, “but similar to the amount used in neighboring states.” That said, the only way to know your personal average energy consumption is by looking at your electricity bills over the course of a year (you want to accommodate all weather conditions) and understanding both your overall usage, as well as if you use more or less during certain months.
The Texas Senate Bill 7, passed in 2002, gave 5.6 million Texans the power to choose a retail electric provider (REP) to supply electricity to their home or business. This bill facilitated a competitive energy marketplace that 85 percent of Texans can capitalize on today. Energy choice is available to residents in Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth as well as other cities in Texas.
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.
If you live in the greater Houston area, there are over 60 different energy suppliers competing for your business. Many of these providers have websites that are confusing and difficult to navigate, their rates buried in misleading advertising and dense jargon. Who has the time to sort through and keep track of options across all these different sites?