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.
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.
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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.
Geek Your Rate: This website finds you the lowest-priced electric provider and plan in your area based on your last 12 months of usage (You have to type it in from your bills). You pay a one-time fee of $9.95 to access the rates and the website's algorithms to find your best plan for a 48-hour time period. You can also try it for free to see how it works, but the data Geek Your Rate gives in the free trial are 6 months old. More info
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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.