The increase in retail rates come as companies prepare for surging prices in the wholesale electricity markets where they buy their power. Forecasts of higher than normal temperatures and record power demand are coinciding with the shutdown of at least three coal-fired plants, leading to concerns that temporary shortages on the hottest summer days could send wholesale prices, which typically average less than $50 per megawatt hour, spiking to $3,000 per megawatt hour or higher. (A megawatt hour is 1,000 kilowatt hours.)
In Texas, the average household uses an average of 77 million Btu of electricity per year, which is approximately 14% less than the national average. Breaking these stats down even further shows us that electricity use in the average Texan home is 26% higher than the rest of the United States, however this isn’t much higher than several other states that are closest to Texas. When it comes to cost, the average total household bill per year is $1,801. This amount ranks amongst the highest across America, but other states that typically see soaring temperatures in the summer season aren’t far behind.
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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.
Electric consumers who exercise energy choice will communicate with both their retail electric provider and transmission and distribution service provider (TDSP). You can choose a provider to supply your electricity, but not the company that delivers it to your business, home or apartment. In Texas, there are TDSPs that serve different designated areas of the state. Spring residents and business owners work with Compare Gas Prices Energy, a Houston-based TDSP that serves more than 2 million Texans.
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.
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.