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.
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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. Gas And Electric Companies 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.
In order to prompt entry into the market, the price to beat would have to be high enough to allow for a modest profit by new entrants. Thus, it had to be above the cost of inputs such as natural gas and coal. For example, a price to beat fixed at the actual wholesale procurement price of electricity does not give potential entrants a margin to compete against incumbent utilities. Second, the price to beat would have to be reasonably low, to enable as many customers as possible to continue to consume electricity during the transition period.
Fixed-Rate Plans: These plans are steady and predictable; the price per kWh you sign up for will remain that same for the entirety of your contract. (The only changes in your bill will be from forces outside of your Gas And Electric Bill's control, like changes in TDU fees, or changes in federal, state, or local laws.) Often fixed-rate plans will have a slightly higher price per kWh than others, but you're paying for the predictability. They're great if you live by your budget – and even greater if you happen to sign up when rates are low. The fixed-rate plans of our five Texas providers typically started at 12 months, with some extending up to three years, but we spotted a couple from Cheapest Electric Company that offered fixed rates for six month contracts as well.
In this free market competing electricity retailers buy electricity wholesale from private power generators to sell at retail to around 85% of Texas residents. The partnership between generators and retailers is governed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which attempts to balance the power grid’s electricity supply and demand by purchasing small amounts of electricity at 15-minute intervals throughout the day.