Due to Texas deregulation, you can pick your retail energy provider. Your location will determine the utility provider who is in charge of maintenance and who operates the electrical infrastructure. Your utility provider will continue to handle your energy regardless of what energy provider you chose. They will continue to deal with any issues you may face and smoothly transition your home to your new energy provider. In Houston, your utility operator is Oncor, although they don’t offer energy plans in Houston. If you were to have an electrical emergency or power outage, Oncor is the one to call, not your energy provider.
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.
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.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average household in Texas uses about 15,000 kWh of electricity per year — 26 percent more than the national average, “but similar to the amount used in neighboring states.” That said, the only way to know your personal average energy consumption is by looking at your electricity bills over the course of a year (you want to accommodate all weather conditions) and understanding both your overall usage, as well as if you use more or less during certain months.
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.
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Prices on longer term plans of a year or more have also risen significantly. Retail electricity providers are reluctant to discuss their prices — especially rising ones — but the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, a trade group, estimated that the rate on a one-year fixed price offer on the Power to Choose website has climbed more than 20 percent over the past year to an average of 11.1 cents per kilowatt hour.
On the one hand, long-term, fixed-rate (contract) plans offer stability in pricing. If energy supply costs suddenly go up in your area, you won’t be left paying more than what you bargained for. You’ll have peace-of-mind. If you want to switch out of your contract before it ends with a lower cost plan, you’ll likely face a cancellation fee (early termination fee).