In the market for some electricity?
If you are in parts of Texas that are open to competition you’ll probably find plenty of options, but the decision may not be easy. Scores of companies are registered to sell electricity to Texas retail customers, offering a wide range of plans. Most Houston-area customers can choose from more than 80 different plans, ranging from month-to-month rates that can change at any time, to deals that lock in a price for up to three years. Here are some basic questions and answers.
Q: Where should I start?
A: First check with your provider to find out exactly what you’re paying now. What’s the price per kilowatt-hour and what are the monthly fees, if any?
Will you be penalized for leaving? Does the company offer any better plans? What will they offer you to stay as a customer?
Q: Where can I find information on competing electric plans?
A: The Texas Public Utility Commission’s Web site lists and compares all providers by ZIP code. It allows users to sort the plans by price, length of contract and “green” options. A number of private Web sites let you compare rates as well, but they may not list all the companies with plans in your area. Retailers also are listed in the Yellow Pages under “electric companies.”
Q: What choices will I have when comparing plans?
A: First, you’ll have a range of prices to consider, quoted in cents per kilowatt hour. the lowest priced plans likely will be subject to monthly charges, but by paying more you may be able to lock in a price for up to three years.
Some companies offer “green power” plans that sell electricity generated by renewable sources like wind. These prices have been among the highest but they are decreasing. Eventually companies will offer plans that charge different rates based on what time of day electricity is used, or provide a discount in exchange for the ability to turn off a customer’s air conditioning for short periods during times of peak use.
Companies may also charge a variety of fees, including fees for paying by check, paying late, calling customer service or using less electricity than a specified minimum. Each company’s “electricity facts label” outlining rates and fees is available on company Web sites, by mail or on www.powertochoose.org.
Q: Can companies change the terms of my plan without notice?
A: Most contracts for a month or more have “material change” clauses that require companies to notify consumers 45 days before a major change in the terms of service and give customers 10 days to opt out. Some companies don’t include price among major changes, however, so you should review your bill every month.
Q: Can I be turned down for electric service?
A: Companies cannot deny service based on income or credit rating, but they can refuse service based on past payment history. In such instances, a maximum deposit of one-fifth of an annual estimated bill or the next two months’ total estimates can be required.
Some companies offer plans where customers pay up front. If an electric company refuses to serve you, it must say why and tell you that you can file a complaint with the Texas Public Utility Commission.
Q: Will switching providers change the quality of my service?
A: Your electric service won’t be any more or less reliable with a new provider. The lines and poles are operated by a separate regulated entity called a transmission and distribution company. In the Houston area it’s CenterPoint Energy.
Reprinted from Houston Chronicle
More Help/Complaints/Consumer Protection
Public Utility Commission
Phone: 1-888-782-8477; 512-936-7120 (TTY 1-800-735-2988)
Mail: PUC - Customer Protection
P.O. Box 13326
Austin, TX 78711-3326
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)
A community organization of low- and moderate-income families, offers information and assistance
to individuals trying to shop for a new electric provider or for help in paying their bills:
Location: 2600 South Loop West, Suite 271
Texas Ratepayers’ Organization to Save Energy
Offers tips on finding affordable electricity and saving energy.