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.
But competition didn't necessarily end up cutting prices, according to the report. One contributing factor is confusion among customers as they try to choose among scores of retail electricity providers and the overwhelming variation of plans, leading many to just stick with familiar companies rather than look for better deals, according to the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power .
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.
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.
Using an average of 1,063 kWh of power each month, Houston’s electricity consumption rates exceed the national average by over 100 kWh. As a city however, it does manage to maintain a lower monthly energy charge than the rest of the US, incurring an average fee of $99 in comparison to the $112 national monthly average. To further save on their plans each month, residents can choose from a selection of Texas-based energy suppliers and service plans.
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.
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.
Then, in 2002, Texas deregulated the electricity market and everybody cheered! Except that, sure, deregulation opened up the market to competition that may (or may not) have resulted in lower rates, but it introduced a whole host of other issues. These issues may not have been factors before but now they’re critical when you’re on the look-out for cheap Houston electricity providers.