1.     Contracts:  Before, there were no contracts.  You signed up or you didn’t.  When it’s the only game in town, you have to play by their rules.  Nowadays, you’ll see these ultra-fabulous rates bandied about but it’s only by carefully scrutinizing the fine print that you’ll discover those wonderful rates come with a one-year lock-down or other catches.
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.
Prepaid electricity plans are yet another option available to Texas customers. Prepaid plans let you avoid credit checks and deposits by pre-paying for your electricity. Prepaid electricity plans typically do not have a fixed duration and operate on a pay-as-you-go basis. Shopping for prepaid electricity can often yield relatively cheap electricity with no deposit. See Prepaid Electricity: Is It Right For Me? for more.
Fixed-rate, long-term (contract) plans provide stability in electricity rates. If market energy costs suddenly trend upward where you live, you can rest assured that you won’t have to pay more out of pocket. However, if you want to switch to a different, lower-cost plan before the end of the contract term, you’ll likely have to pay a cancellation or early termination fee.
There was a time when electricity was electricity.  Like so many other places around America, in Houston, electricity didn’t mean “cheap electricity”.  But you moved into your home and you called the utility and they turned on the power and the bill came in and you paid it every month.  Oh, sure, you might grumble at the amount but then you’d go around and yell at the kids for leaving the lights on and the TV blaring with nobody in the room or maybe you’d look into buying more energy-efficient appliances.  When it came down to it, the Bill was the Bill.  Either you paid the bill or you ate dry packet meals, had cold showers, and watched TV by peering through the neighbor’s window after dark (preferably once they’d turned the TV on).  What’s that?  You want cheap electricity?  Sure thing:  call 1-800-WHO-CARES any time during regular business hours of 2:17am to 3:04am Sundays only.
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