2of 3Cattle roam on a mesa near Iraan, Texas on the site of the Desert Sky Wind Farm. According to website Desert Sky Wind Farm® is a 160.5-megawatt (160,500-kilowatt) wind power generation facility located near the far West Texas town of Iraan, in Pecos County. The site includes 107 turbines, each rated at 1.5 megawatts (1,500 kilowatts) spread over a 15-square-mile area on Indian Mesa.Photo: John Davenport, Staff / San Antonio Express-News
There was a time when electricity was electricity. Like so many other places around America, in Houston, electricity didn’t mean “cheap electricity”. But you moved into your home and you called the utility and they turned on the power and the bill came in and you paid it every month. Oh, sure, you might grumble at the amount but then you’d go around and yell at the kids for leaving the lights on and the TV blaring with nobody in the room or maybe you’d look into buying more energy-efficient appliances. When it came down to it, the Bill was the Bill. Either you paid the bill or you ate dry packet meals, had cold showers, and watched TV by peering through the neighbor’s window after dark (preferably once they’d turned the TV on). What’s that? You want cheap electricity? Sure thing: call 1-800-WHO-CARES any time during regular business hours of 2:17am to 3:04am Sundays only.
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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.
2013 On March 14, CenterPoint Energy announced it was teaming up with ArcLight Capital Partners LLC and Oklahoma City-based OGE Energy Corp. (NYSE: OGE) in an $11 billion deal to create one of the largest master limited partnerships in the U.S. The joint venture includes OGE Energy and ArcLight's midstream transportation, gathering and processing business, Enogex LLC, and all of CenterPoint Energy's interstate pipelines and field service businesses. ArcLight Capital Partners is a Boston-based energy investment firm.
Take a few minutes to sit down and do some digging. Not only do you want to find out exactly which Houston power companies operate in your neighborhood and what it is they have to offer, but you want to find out which are the cheap power companies in Houston. You’ve just bought a home! You need to save as much as possible everywhere you can until you can get at least some of the move-in expenses paid down. Now, while it’s true that most Retail Electric Providers require a deposit if your credit is poor or you haven’t had a utility in your name, not all of them do. Even with those that do, some will accept a letter of guarantee, where someone else guarantees in writing that they’ll pay the bill if you don’t, in place of a cash deposit. This can be even more useful once you consider that the typical deposit is 1/5th to 1/6th of an annual bill – if it’s a brand-new home, it might be that the only record of use is that of the construction company and that would be a seriously large deposit, indeed!
As a result, power companies have shut down Texas coal plants unable to compete with lower-cost generators. Meanwhile, the low electricity prices of recent years — a function of cheap natural gas — and small profits have discouraged companies from investing in new power plants. ERCOT, which oversees about 90 percent of the state’s power grid, said power reserves that are called on when demand peaks on the hottest summer days have shrunk to the lowest levels since Texas deregulated power markets in 2002.
But in Houston, where there are 52 companies on Power to Choose each offering several different power plans, there might be too many choices. Economists have found that when confronted with a large number of choices, most people tend to do nothing. In one well-known behavioral economics experiment, researchers set out six samples of fruit jams at a grocery store, enticing 30 percent of shoppers to buy the product. But when they increased the number of samples to 24, only 3 percent of shoppers made a purchase.
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.
Texas deregulated most of the state's electricity markets in 2002, a move aimed at lowering electricity costs by letting consumers choose their own electric power providers and their own plans. Some parts of Texas continued to be regulated, including those that get power from municipal utilities, electric cooperatives and investor-owned utilities that operate outside the state's primary power grid.
Consumers in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and Corpus Christi were promised bargains on electricity when the Texas Legislature deregulated the electricity market. But 16 years later they're still paying more for electricity than their counterparts in cities Texas lawmakers exempted from deregulation such as Austin and San Antonio, according to the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power which analyzed federal electricity pricing data.
How does that work? Spark Energy buys electricity and competes in the market for the best price -- a competition that ultimately drives prices down and allows us to deliver more value for your money. In Texas, switching to a different electricity provider is kind of like changing to a different long distance company. When you switch to Spark Energy, the utility will continue to deliver electricity to your home but Spark Energy will handle all the billing, including the utility’s delivery fees and the electricity you actually use.
In the Houston area, only 16 percent of CenterPoint Energy’s 2.4 million residential customers — or about one in six — switched their electricity providers over the past year, according to the state’s grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Among the 3.5 million customers of the state’s largest electric distribution utility, Oncor of Dallas, just 13 percent — only one in eight — signed up with a new retail power company in the last 12 months.
To skirt the late summer electricity rate hikes, a little bit of planning can really pay off. Try to avoid signing new long-term electricity contracts in late summer. While it may be impossible to escape signing a new electricity contract if you’re moving during that time, just know that a short-term plan may make more sense until the rates go back down in the fall. That way you’re not stuck paying a premium rate for an entire year or more.
Ultimately, analysts said, this means that the vast majority of customers are not reaping the benefits of electricity deregulation, which promised that more competition would mean healthy savings. One analyst estimates that consumers are leaving about $2 billion a year on the table, which is likely flowing to the bottom lines of retail electricity companies.
The low teaser rates for consumers available just a month ago have disappeared, making it impossible for buyers who average about 1,000 kilowatts a month to lock in a three-month rate for less than 18 cents a kilowatt-hour, according to PowertoChoose.org, the price comparison tool run by the Public Utility Commission of Texas. A year ago, Texans shopping for a three-month contract could find rates that were less than 7 cents a kilowattt hour while earlier this spring, bargains were still available for less than a nickel a kilowatt hour.
In Texas' deregulated energy market, customers must pick their own electricity provider, all of which offer different rates per hour of power usage. You can shop for other power plans on the state-run website, www.powertochoose.org, or try an alternative website, like www.texaspowerguide.com to help find the cheapest plan. Keep in mind that many retail electricity contracts carry penalties for early termination.
Business specialists say that retail electricity companies follow a model used in other mature industries, such as banking, cell phone services and cable television, where the market is saturated and the main way to grow is by poaching customers from competitors. In all these industries, companies use cut-rate promotional offers to win customers and then hope inertia sets in once promotions expire and prices increase.
If you think you have to pay the rates your current electricity provider charges, we have good news. The state of Texas allows you to choose which electricity provider you use. This means you can select a provider that has the cheapest Texas electric rates in your area and the best plan for your needs, whether you need a better deal for your residence, your business, or both. Thousands of consumers and businesses that have used our electricity rate comparison process agree that, when shopping for commercial electricity or residential electricity rates and plans, Vault Electricity is the one-stop source for the best options from top electric providers.
We've pioneered our techniques and grown our expertise in the retail energy industry for more than a decade. With hundreds of thousands of customers and firm investor backing, we're a company you can count on. Spark Energy is also proud to be a publically traded company: our NASDAQ ticker is SPKE. Visit our investor relations page for more information.
The cheapest rates are going to have shorter contract terms. For instance, a 3 month term is cheaper than a 6 month term and a 6 month term is cheaper than a 12-14 month term. So if you are able to remember to call before your contract expires (they will notify via mail you that your contract is about to expire), then the 3 or 6-month term is your best bet. If you don't call to renew/cancel, you will be charged a much higher variable rate on a month-to-month basis. If this is you, sign for a 12-month contract term with the cheapest rate.
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.