Since the electricity market opened, more and more electricity providers have entered the market with various plans and products. Direct Energy and their affiliated brands: Bounce Energy , First Choice Power, and CPL Retail Energy offer a multitude of electricity plans and benefits so customers can find the electricity plan that best fits their needs. While it’s great to have so many options, it can be difficult and confusing to choose an electricity plan. With choices like fixed-rate, variable-rate, and prepaid plans, as well as varying price options, term lengths and rewards, shopping for an electricity plan can be an overwhelming task.
The increase in retail rates come as companies prepare for surging prices in the wholesale electricity markets where they buy their power. Forecasts of higher than normal temperatures and record power demand are coinciding with the shutdown of at least three coal-fired plants, leading to concerns that temporary shortages on the hottest summer days could send wholesale prices, which typically average less than $50 per megawatt hour, spiking to $3,000 per megawatt hour or higher. (A megawatt hour is 1,000 kilowatt hours.)
The complaints filed against providers aren't a perfect mirror of the J.D. Power customer satisfactions scores. Just Energy, which earned only two J.D. Power Circles and earned the second-lowest score, had only 21 complaints recorded with the Public Utility Commission. But it's helpful to view these complaints in aggregate: Over 50 percent of the 1,119 total complaints fall under "billing" — another reason to seek out a provider with high customer satisfaction in that area in particular.
Patrick Mays, an engineer for an oil and gas company in Houston, recently went shopping for a new electricity plan and found that the best deal available would cost about 55 percent more than what he’s paying, boosting his average rate to 9.5 cents per kilowatt hour from 6.1 cents under his expiring 12-month contract. The power bills for his 2,000-square foot home will climb an average of $30 a month over the year, he said, but he will take the brunt of the rate increase during the hot summer when he estimates his monthly bill will top out at $186, nearly double the $95 he paid last year.
One of the newest and most exciting things we’ve introduced into the market is a strategic partnership with Amazon, allowing us to offer customers in Texas new fixed-rate electricity plans that include an Amazon Echo Dot. Our Power on Command and Weekends on Command plans offer protection from seasonal price fluctuations, plus an Echo Dot to manage all your smart home needs. Our Alexa Skill adds even more convenience, giving you the power to access and manage your Direct Energy account using voice commands. With a population of over 2.3 million people, Houston is the largest city in Texas and the fourth largest city in the US by population. It was once the world’s most important hub for the oil industry. Energy is still a major industry in Houston and an important part of the local and state economies. Many of the state’s retail electricity providers are based out of Houston.
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.
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.
For example, if you use a small amount of energy each month, you expect to be rewarded — right? Unfortunately, nearly all electricity plans from Texas REPs are advertised as costing more per kWh the less electricity you use. It’s a little like buying in bulk: Providers often discount your bill when you cross certain kWh thresholds. For instance, one 12-month plan from StarTex Power quotes 8.1 cents per kWh for 1,000 kWh a month and 8.8 cents for 2,000 kWh per month, but 12.1 cents for 500 kWh per month. Why the difference? Customers get $35 back each month if they pass 1,000 kWh of use, and another $15 back per month if they cross 2,000 kWh. In this case, using half as much electricity as your neighbor on the same plan wouldn’t get you half the bill.
These rates are practically the opposite of fixed rate plans. As opposed to fixed-rate plans, variable rates are a better option for people living in an apartment or house for a short term. With a variable energy rate, our customers are free from a long-term contract, and they can pay the market price. This enables our customers to take advantage of price drops when the market fluctuates. The downside, however, is that when energy rates spike, so will your electricity bill. This option is a good one for risk-takers. You will be able to benefit from energy rate decreases while risking a rise in energy prices.
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.
Texas deregulation began in early 2002 with the approval of Texas Senate Bill Number 7. Now, the majority of the state, including Houston, has the power to select their own provider. Previously, consumers were only given one option for an energy supplier. Deregulation has allowed competition in the energy market and has given residents the power to choose which energy provider sells them energy and bills them each month.
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.
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.
With over 2.3 million residents, Houston is the largest city in Texas and the fourth most populated in the United States. Encompassing over six hundred square miles, Houston stands as the fifth most popular metropolitan area in the country and gets its name from the commander who won Texas’ independence from Mexico in 1836. The city lies in the southeastern portion of the state within a deregulated Houston Electricity market and as such, allows residents to select an energy provider from the various service companies that serve the state.