Minimum Usage Fees: Often set at or around 1,000 kWh/month, these fees mean you’ll always pay for at least that amount — even if you only use, say, 800 kWh of electricity some months. It sounds nasty, but it’s only something to be concerned about if your electricity bills historically show you hover right around that minimum use threshold. If you’re electricity use always exceeds that amount, it’s like it’s not even there.
The growth in wind power and natural gas fueled power will offset the loss in coal over time but for the summer of 2018, expected record demand for electricity will converge with power plant closures to put a squeeze on wholesale electricity rates. This, in turn, will cause the retail electricity prices paid by most Texas consumers to increase. The rise in wholesale rates could be particularly dangerous for consumers who have electricity plans that are tied directly to the wholesale price of electricity.
Texas electricity rates are on their way down again. After a summer spike, electricity rates across Texas have fallen. Utility officials were concerned about having enough electricity to meet peak summer demand. This resulted in electricity providers increasing the rates on their fixed rate plans in anticipation of higher wholesale electricity prices.
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.
Because prices from energy companies in Maryland rise and fall depending on the wholesale price of energy, residents may want a more stable rate for a longer period. A fixed-rate energy plan offers you just that, with a consistent rate for the duration of your agreement at current energy prices – regardless of fluctuations in the energy market. This could mean protection from rate spikes and savings for electric utility customers.
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.
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.
There’s some smart money placing big bets on a rebound for oil. Blackstone Group LP BX, -5.27% President Hamilton “Tony” James said last month that the company was “scrambling” to invest up to $10 billion in energy companies, according to Bloomberg. Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman said during the company’s earnings call on Jan. 29 that the majority of Blackstone’s energy investments were “oil-price agnostic, including energy-transportation infrastructure where we have off-take agreements, merchant power, renewables and other types of energy-oriented investing.”
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.
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.
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.
Keeping on top: With deregulation, a whole host of electric resellers jumped into the market because there’s a whole lot of electricity to sell: if Texas were a country, it’d be the 11th largest electricity consumer in the world! Just by itself, it uses as much electricity as Spain or Great Britain! That means there’s a whole lot of information you have to find, absorb, and process to make sure you’re getting the best rate for your needs.