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.
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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.
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.)
Energy Choice Experts: This company provides an apples-to-apples cost comparison of all 12 month plans based upon a client's usage history and guarantees they will find the Lowest Annual Cost plan for each client based upon their usage pattern. New clients pay a flat $35. Returning clients pay $30. You sign up the for electricity service yourself. They only provide the analysis (the hard part). More info
1. Contracts: Before, there were no contracts. You signed up or you didn’t. When it’s the only game in town, you have to play by their rules. Nowadays, you’ll see these ultra-fabulous rates bandied about but it’s only by carefully scrutinizing the fine print that you’ll discover those wonderful rates come with a one-year lock-down or other catches.
“The whole business model of the industry is to get people in on the promotional rates and then jack up their rate when the promotional rates end,” said Trent Crow, a former JP Morgan energy trader and founder of Real Simple Energy, a website that helps consumers find low-cost electricity plans. “I don’t think people realize how much they are overpaying.”
On the other hand, month-to-month variable rate (no-contract) plans don’t have cancellation fees. You won’t be penalized if you find a better deal elsewhere and want to make another switch. And, you won’t be stuck paying more than you should be if the market rate for electricity trends down. But, if it goes up, you’ll be paying more than your in-contract neighbors, and you’ll likely want to shop around again for a better deal.