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.
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.
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.
For example, shoppers for Texas electricity plans in the 77494 ZIP code in Katy, TX, could find 12-month plans for 6.8 cents/kWh in February; by June, electricity rates had increased 27 percent to 9.3 cents/kWh. As of early September, 12-month plans were up again, to 9.9 cents/kWh – a 6.5 percent hike from June and a 46 percent increase just since February.
4) Sign-Up and Confirmation: Once you’ve chosen the retail electricity provider that best suits your needs, just sign up directly from the website. Keep in mind that Texas electricity providers require a credit check, so be prepared to provide your social security number. Although you may have a decent FICO score – you may have a very low Utility Score and have to pay a deposit. Electricity companies use a TEC (Telecommunications, Energy, and Cable) score, a risk model developed specifically for telecomm and energy accounts, to determine if a deposit is required. Based on your score, your electricity service deposit may range from $100 to $400. Many times utilities do not provide payment histories to credit reporting agencies, so find out if your current provider have options (i.e. providing a letter) to show that your previous utility credit is in good standing.
The price to beat seemed to accomplish its goal of attracting competitors to the market during the period through January 1, 2007. It allowed competitors to enter the market without allowing the incumbents to undercut them in price. It has also given energy consumers the ability to compare energy rates offered by different providers. The less-regulated providers undercut the price to beat by only a small margin given that they must balance lower prices (to attract customers and build market share) with higher prices (needed to reinvest in new power plants). Due to the small difference in competing prices and slow (yearly or so) "buying" process, price decrease due to competition was very slow, and it took a few years to offset the original increase by "traditional" electric providers and move to lower rates.
The Texas Senate Bill 7, passed in 2002, gave 5.6 million Texans the power to choose a retail electric provider (Gas And Electric Bill) to supply electricity to their home or business. This bill facilitated a competitive energy marketplace that 85 percent of Texans can capitalize on today. Energy choice is available to residents in Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth as well as other cities in Texas.