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.)
Oncor, the state’s largest distribution utility which covers Dallas, Fort Worth and much of North Texas, has already agreed to pass all of the millions of dollars of expected tax savings along to consumers. Oncor agreed to pass the savings along to customers as part of a rate review which is a formal process in which the PUC reviews the appropriateness of rates being charged by the utility. No exact details have been determined with respect to how the savings will be passed along. The rate review was actually completed before the tax reform bill was passed but there was a commitment in principle to passing along the savings. It’s not yet know exactly how much Oncor will save from the lower corporate tax rates but with a $245 million tax bill in 2017 future saving are likely to be in the tens of millions of dollars.
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.
In the Houston area, only 16 percent of CenterPoint Energy’s 2.4 million residential customers — or about one in six — switched their electricity providers over the past year, according to the state’s grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Among the 3.5 million customers of the state’s largest electric distribution utility, Oncor of Dallas, just 13 percent — only one in eight — signed up with a new retail power company in the last 12 months.
Prices are expected to go up so quickly that Direct Energy has stopped selling its "Power-to-Go" plan to new customers this summer, a prepaid plan that changes rates each month depending on wholesale prices. Instead, the company is encouraging its customers to lock in for longer periods of time. Customers who used up to 2,000 kilowatts each month could get a 12-month contract for 11.7 cents per kilowatt hour in May compared to the same plan for 9.1 cents per kilowatt hour one year earlier.
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.
After spending so much time and energy with energy companies, I figure I should pass this info onto the internet world (within Houston). I am a Centerpoint Energy resident (you don't get to choose the electricity provider you have; it's based on where the electricity is provided). I think Houston is predominantly a Centerpoint energy area (correct me if I'm wrong).
On the one hand, long-term, fixed-rate (contract) plans offer stability in pricing. If energy supply costs suddenly go up in your area, you won’t be left paying more than what you bargained for. You’ll have peace-of-mind. If you want to switch out of your contract before it ends with a lower cost plan, you’ll likely face a cancellation fee (early termination fee).