Since 2002, the majority of Texans have had to choose their own Retail Electric Provider (REP) – the middleman that buys electricity wholesale, then sells it to you, the consumer. According to the Public Utility Commission of Texas’ 2017 report, the Lone Star state is “the national leader in competitive residential, commercial, and industrial offerings,” which means there are well over 200 providers bidding for your attention.
In the Houston area, only 16 percent of CenterPoint Energy’s 2.4 million residential customers — or about one in six — switched their electricity providers over the past year, according to the state’s grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Among the 3.5 million customers of the state’s largest electric distribution utility, Oncor of Dallas, just 13 percent — only one in eight — signed up with a new retail power company in the last 12 months.
Which ones the best? Like all things energy, it depends. Do you prefer predictability, or do you like the idea of potentially saving some cash by monitoring the market? Our (albeit conservative) recommendation: Fixed rate is probably best. Energy prices are on the rise — the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts a 3 percent increase in residential electricity prices in 2018.
On the other hand, month-to-month variable rate (no-contract) plans don’t have cancellation fees. You won’t be penalized if you find a better deal elsewhere and want to make another switch. And, you won’t be stuck paying more than you should be if the market rate for electricity trends down. But, if it goes up, you’ll be paying more than your in-contract neighbors, and you’ll likely want to shop around again for a better deal.
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.
Here's how it works: Grab a recent electric bill and head to www.energyogre.com. Enter some basic information from your bill and within minutes, Energy Ogre lets you know if it can save you money. If it can, you pay the company for one year, either $10 a month or $120 up front. Once you sign up, the company keeps looking at energy plans to make sure you're always getting the lowest rate possible.
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.
That phenomenon has played out in Texas electricity markets, where few customers are willing to navigate the maze of power plans in the hope of shaving a few cents per kilowatt hour from their electric rates, according to the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power which buys electricity on behalf of municipal governments in Texas. As result, customers in regulated markets such as San Antonio and Austin on average pay less for electricity than those in deregulated markets like Houston, according to the coalition.
Twenty bucks compared to a $2,000 bill? Not much to write home about, but hey — it’s free money. And, true, you’ll still get some free money when you use less energy, but rewards only really seem reward-y if you're shelling out big bucks. That same Direct Energy plan only yields about $6 in Plenti points per year if you use 500 kWh of electricity each month.
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With more than a decade in business as a quality electricity provider based in Houston, Spark Energy works to consistently deliver reliable, low-cost electricity, community support and a better customer experience to hundreds of thousands of satisfied customers across sixteen states. Why do we do it? Because we are committed to being the best electricity supplier in the country. In Houston, that means:
Prices are expected to go up so quickly that Direct Energy has stopped selling its "Power-to-Go" plan to new customers this summer, a prepaid plan that changes rates each month depending on wholesale prices. Instead, the company is encouraging its customers to lock in for longer periods of time. Customers who used up to 2,000 kilowatts each month could get a 12-month contract for 11.7 cents per kilowatt hour in May compared to the same plan for 9.1 cents per kilowatt hour one year earlier.
2of3Cattle roam on a mesa near Iraan, Texas on the site of the Desert Sky Wind Farm. According to website Desert Sky Wind Farm® is a 160.5-megawatt (160,500-kilowatt) wind power generation facility located near the far West Texas town of Iraan, in Pecos County. The site includes 107 turbines, each rated at 1.5 megawatts (1,500 kilowatts) spread over a 15-square-mile area on Indian Mesa.Photo: John Davenport, Staff / San Antonio Express-News
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?