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Texas electricity deregulation has given millions of Houston residents and businesses the power to choose the cheapest electricity rate. According to ERCOT, over 92% of Texas homes and businesses who live in deregulated areas have switched electric companies since deregulation began in 2002. Even though electric choice in Texas has been hugely successful for energy savings, customers are still confused by the options, terminology, and overall process of switching electric providers.
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.
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But competition didn't necessarily end up cutting prices, according to the report. One contributing factor is confusion among customers as they try to choose among scores of retail electricity providers and the overwhelming variation of plans, leading many to just stick with familiar companies rather than look for better deals, according to the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power .
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.
Partha Krishnamurthy, a marketing professor at the University of Houston, said he suspects that many people may be unaware they’re paying more than they need to for electricity, putting their bills on autopay and forgetting about the rates they pay. Most people don’t go to the trouble of changing banks, jobs or their electricity providers, for that matter, unless there are problems.
Even though customers in deregulated Texas markets routinely pay more for electricity, there is a bright spot. The gap between the average price paid for electricity between deregulated and regulated market has shrunk to 8.8 percent. In 2006, customers in deregulated cities were paying nearly 47 percent more for electricity than their counterparts in regulated cities.
That phenomenon has played out in Texas electricity markets, where few customers are willing to navigate the maze of power plans in the hope of shaving a few cents per kilowatt hour from their electric rates, according to the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power which buys electricity on behalf of municipal governments in Texas. As result, customers in regulated markets such as San Antonio and Austin on average pay less for electricity than those in deregulated markets like Houston, according to the coalition.
In Houston, 0% of people have switched to a plan that has some renewable energy component to it. Another 0% have switched to a plan that is partially renewable, while 0% have switched to a plan that powers homes completely by renewable electricity. This of course means that 100% of people have remained on a plan powered by traditional sources of electricity such as coal or nuclear power.