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.
Switching electricity supplier could shave pounds off your bills. But it’s not always about how much hard cash you could save. You might be fed up with poor customer service, you might want greater visibility of your usage through an app or you might want to choose your supplier based on their green credentials, or whether they supply a smart meter.
Just as you shop for other products and services, you may also be able to shop for an energy supplier. With choice, energy customers from large manufacturers to residential homeowners are able to shop for energy options from a diverse group of competitive suppliers certified by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). As more suppliers are offering their services in your area, you have the opportunity to choose the company that supplies the generation of your electricity and supplies your natural gas.
When you decide to switch, and have got the ball rolling with your new supplier, you should settle any outstanding debts. If you have bills that are more than 28 days old, you might find that you can’t change supplier until you’ve paid them. But there are some exceptions to the 28 days – for example, if you are less than £200 in debt, then your switch could still go ahead as normal
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) does it for you. When you sign up for a plan with a new provider, ERCOT will send you a mailer confirming the switch. You have three days upon receiving the mailer to change your mind. If you don't, you'll have a new provider within seven days, and ERCOT will notify your old provider. Just remember, if you abandon a contract before it's complete, you will be on the hook for any fees or penalties detailed in its Terms of Service.
It’s worth noting that you can switch for free with no exit fee 42-49 days before the end of your contract. Under Ofgem’s standards of conduct, energy firms have to give you between 42 and 49 days’ notice of your tariff ending. You can use this time to decide whether to stick with them, or switch. If you decide to switch, you won’t be charged an exit fee.
In summary, fixed-rate plans provide a level of certainty and stability in your energy charge since the price will not fluctuate over the life of your contract. If prices suddenly spike, you are protected because your rate is locked in. The flip side is that if rates drop over the life of your contract, you’ll be stuck paying the higher rate. You can incur steep cancellation fees if you change electricity plans or providers before the end of your contract term.
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.
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.
Fixed-Rate Plans: These plans are steady and predictable; the price per kWh you sign up for will remain that same for the entirety of your contract. (The only changes in your bill will be from forces outside of your REP's control, like changes in TDU fees, or changes in federal, state, or local laws.) Often fixed-rate plans will have a slightly higher price per kWh than others, but you're paying for the predictability. They're great if you live by your budget – and even greater if you happen to sign up when rates are low. The fixed-rate plans of our five Texas providers typically started at 12 months, with some extending up to three years, but we spotted a couple from Reliant that offered fixed rates for six month contracts as well.
In Texas' deregulated energy market, customers must pick their own electricity provider, all of which offer different rates per hour of power usage. You can shop for other power plans on the state-run website, www.powertochoose.org, or try an alternative website, like www.texaspowerguide.com to help find the cheapest plan. Keep in mind that many retail electricity contracts carry penalties for early termination.
To skirt the late summer electricity rate hikes, a little bit of planning can really pay off. Try to avoid signing new long-term electricity contracts in late summer. While it may be impossible to escape signing a new electricity contract if you’re moving during that time, just know that a short-term plan may make more sense until the rates go back down in the fall. That way you’re not stuck paying a premium rate for an entire year or more.
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