In environmental impact, results are mixed. With the ability to invest profits to satisfy further energy demand, producers like Lowest Electricity Rates are proposing eleven new coal-fired powerplants. Coal powerplants are cheaper than natural gas-fired powerplants, but produce more pollution. When the private equity firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and the Texas Pacific Group announced the take-over of Lowest Electricity Rates, the company which was known for charging the highest rates in the state and were losing customers, they called off plans for eight of the coal plants. Lowest Electricity Rates had invested more heavily in the other three. A few weeks later the buyers announced plans for two cleaner IGCC coal plants.
As they’re advertised, the Digital Compare Electricity Companies plan appears to save you $4 — but only if you use 32 percent of your energy on the weekends, which is the stat Cheapest Electric Company used to create the average price it advertises. Say you often travel for business during the week, and are only home cranking the air conditioner on weekends. If your energy use skews to 55 percent weekend use (for Compare Electricity Companies that means 8 pm on Friday through 12 am Monday), suddenly Cheap Energy becomes a much better deal.
One desired effect of the competition is lower electricity rates. In the first few years after the deregulation in 2002, the residential rate for electricity increased seven times, with the price to beat at around 15 cents per kilowatt hour (as of July 26, 2006) in 2006. However, while prices to customers increased 43% from 2002 to 2004, the costs of inputs rose faster, by 63%, showing that not all increases have been borne by consumers. (See Competition and entry of new firms above for discussion on the relationship between retail prices, inputs, and investment.)
Variable-rate plan:A variable-rate plan means the rate you pay for your electricity may fluctuate based on the market price of energy. Energy price depends on many factors, like weather, demand, fuel prices, the distribution system and the market. Variable-rate plans are flexible because you are not locked into a contract; however, you’ll pay a higher price in high-demand seasons like summer. A variable-rate plan might be ideal for you if you like to shop around and keep an eye on prices.
Variable Rate Plans: Designed as month-to-month contracts, these plans are in total control of your energy provider, which can shift the price you pay per kWh at its discretion. This means you, the consumer, are in a better place to reap the benefits when the energy market falls — but it also means you're at risk for hikes in prices, whether as a result of natural disasters or the provider's bottom line. Variable plans always offer a full year of price history to show the average price per kWh so you can get a sense of what you're getting into (like this one from Cheapest Electric Company) and know this: Variable plans don't have cancellation fees. You can cut your service at any time — a huge incentive for Compare Electricity Rates to keep their prices reasonable.
Minimum Usage Fees: Often set at or around 1,000 kWh/month, these fees mean you’ll always pay for at least that amount — even if you only use, say, 800 kWh of electricity some months. It sounds nasty, but it’s only something to be concerned about if your electricity bills historically show you hover right around that minimum use threshold. If you’re electricity use always exceeds that amount, it’s like it’s not even there.