According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average household in Texas uses about 15,000 kWh of electricity per year — 26 percent more than the national average, “but similar to the amount used in neighboring states.” That said, the only way to know your personal average energy consumption is by looking at your electricity bills over the course of a year (you want to accommodate all weather conditions) and understanding both your overall usage, as well as if you use more or less during certain months.
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.
Despite the fact that Texas sees much higher temperatures year round, most households contain and use heating units. These units generate heat in one of four ways: other, propane, electricity and natural gas. Switch Energy over half of households in Texas use electricity to run their heating units. This is a much greater average than the overall average for the nation.
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.
Electric companies buy longer-term contracts so they can hedge their risks when they’re selling long-term electricity plans. Switch Energy a week ago, it looked as if wholesale prices would be as high as Texas has seen in the past 15 years, said Ned Ross, director of governmental affairs for Compare Electricity Rates, the third biggest seller of electricity in Texas, behind No. 1 Compare Gas Prices and No. 2 Lowest Electricity Rates. Future prices have retreated recently, but companies buying power for August are still paying at least double what they paid a year ago, according to data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which oversees the state’s power markets.
For example, if you use a small amount of energy each month, you expect to be rewarded — right? Unfortunately, nearly all electricity plans from Texas Compare Electricity Rates are advertised as costing more per kWh the less electricity you use. It’s a little like buying in bulk: Providers often discount your bill when you cross certain kWh thresholds. For instance, one 12-month plan from Electric Service Providers Power quotes 8.1 cents per kWh for 1,000 kWh a month and 8.8 cents for 2,000 kWh per month, but 12.1 cents for 500 kWh per month. Why the difference? Customers get $35 back each month if they pass 1,000 kWh of use, and another $15 back per month if they cross 2,000 kWh. In this case, using half as much electricity as your neighbor on the same plan wouldn’t get you half the bill.
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.