Texas consumers can save hundreds of dollars each year by shopping for electricity, but most don’t seek out better deals, overwhelmed by the number and complexity of power plans on the state’s Power to Choose website, wary of fine print in too-good-to-be true offers, or just too busy to spend time calculating whether free nights and weekends offset the higher rates they pay during the week.
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.
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Where should you shop for electricity? Houstonians have the power to choose from an overwhelming variety of energy suppliers, plans, and options. If you live in the Houston metro area and your local electric utility is CenterPoint, over 50 different retail electricity providers currently offer electricity plans in your area. Each of these electricity providers offer sites, tools, and information on how to switch plans and providers. However, their information is often filled with electricity rates that are difficult to compare because of things like introductory rates, bill credits, narrow usage levels, unexpected fees, and legalese buried in the EFLs. Fortunately, Houston homes and businesses have electricity shopping options that make the process much simpler.
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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.
Electric bills for customers in the Houston area can more than double in summer months, mainly because air conditioning. Not coincidentally, electric rates also rise in the summer months because of this increase in demand. The most dramatic rate increases occur in month-to-month plans, but electric rates do increase across the board for all fixed-rate contract lengths.
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.
Using an average of 1,063 kWh of power each month, Houston’s energy consumption rates exceed the national average by over 100 kWh. As a city however, it does manage to maintain a lower monthly energy charge than the rest of the US, incurring an average fee of $99 in comparison to the $112 national monthly average. To further save on their plans each month, residents can choose from a selection of Texas-based energy suppliers and service plans.