Where should you shop for electricity? Houstonians have the power to choose from an overwhelming variety of energy suppliers, plans, and options. If you live in the Houston metro area and your local electric utility is CenterPoint, over 50 different retail electricity providers currently offer electricity plans in your area. Each of these electricity providers offer sites, tools, and information on how to switch plans and providers. However, their information is often filled with electricity rates that are difficult to compare because of things like introductory rates, bill credits, narrow usage levels, unexpected fees, and legalese buried in the EFLs. Fortunately, Houston homes and businesses have electricity shopping options that make the process much simpler.
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?
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.
Another unwelcome side effect of not knowing your average monthly kWh usage level is that you may end up paying more than you expect. This can occur when a customer inadvertently shops an electric rate based on a higher usage level than they actually use. Electricity suppliers commonly advertise their electric rates associated with the highest (2000 kWh) usage levels since those tend to be the lowest rates.
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.
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.
REPs sell electricity rates to Houston energy consumers, but transmission and distribution service providers (TDSPs) deliver the supply of electricity. In Houston, CenterPoint Energy serves as the area's TDSP and works with about 85 REPs. If your power goes out, immediately report the issue to CenterPoint Energy, not your REP. Use the following phone numbers to get in touch with your Houston TDSP.