Electric companies buy longer-term contracts so they can hedge their risks when they’re selling long-term electricity plans. Just a week ago, it looked as if wholesale prices would be as high as Texas has seen in the past 15 years, said Ned Ross, director of governmental affairs for Direct Energy, the third biggest seller of electricity in Texas, behind No. 1 NRG and No. 2 TXU. Future prices have retreated recently, but companies buying power for August are still paying at least double what they paid a year ago, according to data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which oversees the state’s power markets.
TDU Delivery Charge: TDU stands for transmission and delivery utility — in other words, the utility company in your area that is actually piping the energy from the power generation companies into your home. (Remember, REPs in Texas are just the middleman.) The TDU delivery charge is set by the utility and is consistent from plan to plan and provider to provider within its service areas. For example, AEP , the TDU for Corpus Christi, charges the same delivery fee for all TXU, Direct Energy, and Reliant plans. You don't typically get a choice in utility company, and therefore, these fees are pretty much unavoidable, non-negotiable, and won't factor into choosing an electricity plan or provider.
The threat of price spikes have been long in the making, the result of changing economics of power production. The shale drilling boom produced record amounts of natural gas, which pushed prices to all-time lows and made gas-fired plants cheaper to operate than coal. Renewable energy such as wind is also producing abundant amounts of electricity at a lower cost than coal.
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.
Knowing how much electricity you use each month is important to finding the cheapest electricity plan. For Houstonians, usage is typically the lowest in the winter and highest in the summer. Your specific usage levels can be determined by simply looking back at previous electric bills and finding the kWh used. To avoid electric bill surprises during the peak summer months, you’ll need to accurately know your peak electricity usage which typically occurs in August.
Make sure that you select your home size so that you are looking at the plan rates that apply to a home of your size.  This is very important.  If you live in an apartment, you do not want to be looking at the 2000 kWh rates.  If you enroll in a plan based on a cheap electricity rate at the 2000 kWh level you will probably end up paying a much different rate when you use considerably less electricity than that.
It would be impossible to find any Houston electricity plan that doesn’t get at least part of its electricity from renewable energy sources.  Traditionally, renewable energy has been more expensive than other energy sources.  But that gap has now narrowed substantially.  Green energy plans are competitive with traditional plans and often can be found with cheaper electricity rates than non-green plans.
Houston is becoming much greener, and all signs indicate that the city will continue to be a leader in the renewable energy sector. Green energy in Houston is widely available for consumers. Choose Energy has partnered with Amigo Energy and Green Mountain Energy, two trusted green energy suppliers in Houston. The city's energy efficiency rank typically falls within the top ten, and no other municipality buys more renewable energy. Recently, Causes.com rated the city the 10th greenest in the nation.
Should you choose a short-term, long-term, month-to-month, or prepaid plan? The short answer: it depends on your specific needs. How long do you anticipate living at your location? Are you deciding in the peak season (summer in Houston) or off season? All electricity providers in Houston offer a broad selection of plans for different contract lengths. Many also offer month-to-month and prepaid electricity plans. The bottom line is that everyone’s needs are different and all contract term lengths offer advantages and disadvantages.
Sometimes you will see surprises in the EFL that could have a hug impact on the electricity rate you actually pay.  For example, there may be a bill credit that kicks in once your usage hits 2000 kWh in a month.  This has the effect of driving down the average electricity rate you would pay at 2000 kWh.  But if at the end of the month, you used only 1999 kWh your electricity bill could actually be much higher.
Sometimes you will see surprises in the EFL that could have a hug impact on the electricity rate you actually pay.  For example, there may be a bill credit that kicks in once your usage hits 2000 kWh in a month.  This has the effect of driving down the average electricity rate you would pay at 2000 kWh.  But if at the end of the month, you used only 1999 kWh your electricity bill could actually be much higher.
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.
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.
If you’re thinking about looking for a better electricity plan for you, shop and compare retail electricity providers in your area. Our pick is Direct Energy.  With plans like Free Weekends and Direct-Your-Plan, an electricity plan tailor-made to your lifestyle, you can find the perfect option for you.  Direct Energy customers also benefit from rewards programs like Refer-A-Friend, energy saving insights from Direct Your Energy and access to home services and home protection plans.
The Bayou City is diverse in its population, culture and electricity rates. Houston attracts college students who attend well-known schools in the area such as Texas Southern University, University of Houston and Rice University. Also, Houston's entertainment and year-round events appeal to young couples and families. Attend an Astros game in Minute Maid Park or visit the Houston Zoo – there's always something happening in H-town.
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