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.
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.
Canadian electricity is cheap at 10 US cents per kilowatt hour, which is reflected in their high average electricity usage. US electricity prices at 0.12 $/kWh are also quite cheap internationally. In India and China they are very cheap. The UK is in the middle at 20 cents. It’s relatively expensive globally but not too bad for Europe, where most countries pay a high share of tax on their power.
The local electric company is the utility – that’s the company who owns the infrastructure, including the poles and power lines that deliver electricity to your home. They are who you call if your power goes out or there's an emergency. But in almost every city in Texas, you must choose another company to supply that energy, called a Retail Electric Provider (REP). These REPs, like Spark Energy, allow you to choose electricity plans that offer competitive prices and plans to meet your needs.
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.
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1. After your contract ends, the energy company will send you a notification of your rate increasing to a variable rate (which usually translates to 2-3 cents higher/kWh by a certain date). They are supposed to notify you of this change. I've noticed as a customer, we get short-changed of one month from the contract rate (if you signed for 7 cents for 6 months, you'll only get that for 5 months). If you don't call, your rate goes up significantly if you don't call to change to a cheaper contract. Tell them you want the cheapest rate or you will cancel with their company.
As a residential or commercial customer, you’ll enjoy competitive rates, flexible contracts, and personalized plans that give you the power to choose what’s best for you. And we offer no-deposit electricity for well-qualified customers and deposit payment plans for those with less than desirable credit so that switching retail electric providers won’t break the bank.‡ When you switch to Amigo Energy today, you’ll switch on the power of convenience and affordability.
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 whose power is proved by municipally-owned utilities, electric cooperatives and investor-owned utilities that operate outside the state's primary power grid.
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.
Energy sellers must provide collateral to ERCOT to cover expected future costs of buying wholesale electricity and if the companies don’t have enough capital, they get shut down. Breeze Energy, a Dallas-based electricity retailer that sold wind-energy plans to 9,800 customers including many in the Houston area, got caught in that financial squeeze when it defaulted on its collateral obligations.
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.
One way NRG has expanded its customer base — it has about 30 percent of the retail electricity market in Texas compared to about 20 percent a decade ago —is by putting employees into retail settings such as grocery stores and discount stores to meet with consumers about the company’s electricity plan offerings. The face-to-face interactions have helped the company explain the range of current offerings, said Killinger. NRG also emphasizes the importance of buying power from a company with enough financial heft that it will be around in the future.
If you live in the greater Houston area, there are over 60 different energy suppliers competing for your business. Many of these providers have websites that are confusing and difficult to navigate, their rates buried in misleading advertising and dense jargon. Who has the time to sort through and keep track of options across all these different sites?