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.
And just like with any plan, it’s worth it to do the math to see how different scenarios will affect your bill. Take, for example, a home in Sweetwater that uses about 1,000 kWh of energy per month, and is interested in the Texas Essentials 12 plan. Zero percent renewable energy is the cheapest option — but by committing to a $5 monthly charge for its 100 percent “JustGreen” option, it’s actually cheaper than the 60 percent hybrid renewable option.
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.
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.
ElectricityPlans lets you easily compare electricity plans by displaying all-inclusive rates at all advertised usage levels in a simple easy-to-read format. You can easily estimate your actual all-in electric bill at any given usage level using our Plan Details and Pricing section for each plan. All energy charges, delivery fees, bill credits, and other fees for each plan are shown so you can accurately estimate your monthly electric bill. By showing all rates and fees, you’ll avoid the electric bill sticker shock and so-called “teaser rates” commonly used by electric suppliers to achieve better search results on sites such as powertochoose.org.
Texas consumers can save hundreds of dollars each year by shopping for electricity, but most don’t seek out better deals, overwhelmed by the number and complexity of power plans on the state’s Power to Choose website, wary of fine print in too-good-to-be true offers, or just too busy to spend time calculating whether free nights and weekends offset the higher rates they pay during the week.
That’s what Josh Burdick thinks when looks around for electricity deals on Power to Choose for his 1,400 square foot West University condo. But Burdick, 45, an information technology project manager for an oil company in Houston, figured that he wouldn’t end up saving that much. He signed up with Reliant 11 years ago and has never left, paying anywhere from $120 to $150 a month during the summer. He is not even on a plan, instead paying month-to-month market rates, which typically cost more than longer term retail contracts.
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.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) does it for you. When you sign up for a plan with a new provider, ERCOT will send you a mailer confirming the switch. You have three days upon receiving the mailer to change your mind. If you don't, you'll have a new provider within seven days, and ERCOT will notify your old provider. Just remember, if you abandon a contract before it's complete, you will be on the hook for any fees or penalties detailed in its Terms of Service.
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.
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?