Electricity Shopping in Texas

When shopping for a Houston electricity provider, it’s important to know what kind of plans are available. Retail Electricity Providers (REPs) offer plans that can vary by contract length, payment options, and whether they offer renewable energy. Plans can feature a fixed rate, where your cost per kilowatt hour (kWh) is set at one price for a given length of time. Variable rate plans can change from month to month.

Electricity Shopping in Texas

Fixed Rate Plan:

Fixed rate plans are particularly attractive when rates are very low. This will lock in your rate for the length of time determined by your contract terms. Contract lengths can vary from three months to three years. If the market rate changes at any time during your contract, you will continue to pay your locked in rate, whether it is lower or higher. Your rate may change slightly if the Transmission and Distribution Utility (TDU) changes their fees, if ERCOT changes administrative fees, or if your REP imposes fees to cover costs associated with new laws and regulation. This type of plan makes it easier to budget your monthly electricity expenses. If you decide to back out of a fixed rate plan before your contract term ends, you will likely have to pay a cancellation fee.

Variable Rate Plan:

Variable plans have no contract length, meaning you can cancel one at any time without any penalty. However, the rate you pay can change from month to month, based on the market value and your REP’s discretion. If prices are on the decline, you’ll likely get a better rate than those in fixed plans, but if a natural disaster, cold winter, or other negative market condition crops up, your rates could spike. However, the power to choose and switch REPs at any time with no contract cancellation fees, REPs will tend to keep their rates as low as possible.

Terms, Conditions, and Options:

When shopping for lower energy costs, be sure to understand the contract terms and conditions. Pick a contract term length that best suits you, whether it is a month to month plan, or a fixed rate over a year or two. If you prefer to use renewable electricity, check your REP’s plans to see if they offer any green or renewable plans. The plan’s electricity facts label (EFL) to see what percentage of the plan’s electricity comes from renewable sources. Finally, some plans are available as pre-paid. With these, you add money to your energy account and as you use electricity, the money is deducted for the electricity you use. REPs will send you an email or a text message to alert you of how much money is left in your prepaid account. If your account runs out before you add more money, your electricity will be shut off. These plans tend to have higher rates than the others.

Reading your electricity meter can save you some time

Your local utility company reads your electricity meter every month to determine how much electricity you used between the previous and current billing periods. The electricity your devices, appliances, and lights use is measured in watts, and your total energy consumption is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh). One kWh is equivalent to running a 100 watt light bulb for 10 hours, or using 1000 watts over the course of an hour. This energy consumption is totaled up between all of the electrical devices and appliances in your home and that total is represented by numbers or dials on your electric meter. If you want to get a sense of how much electricity your home consumes over a given day or week, you can read the meter to find out this information yourself. Digital meters display the number of kilowatt hours consumed and are easy to read, but analog meters with gears and dials may seem a bit confusing at first. Analog meters typically have between four and six dials that tell you how many kWh you’ve used. Some are designed like the odometer of a car and are simple to read but others have circular dials with a needle point to or in between numbers. These dials also alternate between clockwise and counterclockwise directions.

 

The first step to reading a meter is to make sure you are looking directly at the needle you wish to read. Looking at it from an angle may skew the reading. Reading the dials from left to right, you read each number that the needle has passed. The needle always travels along the numbers in ascending order, regardless of whether it’s clockwise or counterclockwise. If the needle looks like it’s directly over a number, check the next dial to the right. If the next dial has passed 0, read the number the needle is over. If it has not passed 0, read the number before the one it is over. Below is an example of a 5-dial analog meter. We will read this meter and give an example of a week’s worth of energy use.

Reading your electricity meter can save you some time

 

Using the method discussed above, we clearly see the first dial is 2, the most recent passed number. The second dial is over the 6, but the third dial is just before the 9, so the second dial is 5. The third dial is 8, the fourth is 6, and the fifth is 6. As you can see, each dial rotates in the opposite direction of the previous dial.The electric meter above reads 25866 kWh. Let’s say this is your actual meter reading. On the same day the following week, the meter reads 26223. By taking 26223 and subtracting last week’s reading, 25866, from it, you get 375. That means your home has consumed 357 kilowatt hours worth of electricity since reading your meter the previous week. If you want to get an average weekly consumption over the course of a month, repeat the process for the next three weeks, add the differences together and divide them by 4, the number of weeks.

 

Your energy consumption is not going to be the same each week. Weeks that are hotter or colder will have higher differences because of the added use of climate control in your home. You can use the meter to track how much electricity various appliances consume in your home as well. Check the lowest value dial (which would be at the far right or possibly a thin rotating disc at the bottom) over the course of 15 seconds. Multiply that number by 4 to get the energy consumption per minute. Then, you can shut off a circuit to a part of your home like your living room, then check the meter again. The last dial or disc will be spinning more slowly and you can see how much electricity that part of your home is consuming. It may be easier to invest in an ammeter, however.

Reading your electricity meter can save you some time

Lower your electric bill with proper light bulbs

Looking to lower your electricity bill? You can start by swapping out old incandescent light bulbs and replacing them with more efficient CFLs or LEDs. CFLs and LEDs can be up to 80% more efficient than incandescent bulbs, meaning you could be paying 80 cents per dollar less for your electricity when it comes to lighting. Lets look at these efficient bulbs to understand how they are beneficial.

Lower your electric bill with proper light bulbs

Electricity use is measured in watts. Your bill is tracked by kilowatt hours (kWh), which is 1000 watts used in an hour. Bulb brightness is measured in lumens. A typical indoor incandescent bulb is 60 watts and emits 800 lumens of light. That means every hour it uses 60 watts to produce that light. An LED bulb producing 800 lumens of light uses just 12 watts of electricity.

CFLs, or compact fluorescent lamps, are mini fluorescent tubes. They usually look like a curly tube shaped bulb. They are less expensive per bulb than LEDs, but they last about half as long. Incandescent bulbs, depending on how often they are used, can last for a couple of years. CFLs can last up to 9 years and LEDs can last about 20 years.

Another way to reduce energy usage in any kind of bulb is to use 3-way or dimmer switches. These types of switches allow you to only generate as much light as is needed. With a standard on-off switch, the light bulb is either using no electricity or the full amount it can use. With dimmer switches, you can use less electricity when less light is required. Furthermore, you can use occupancy switches to turn lights on when they detect movement and turn off when no movement is detected for a while. These kinds of lights prevent themselves from being left on when not in use.

The Electricity Facts Label and your Electricity Service

The Electricity Facts Label, or EFL, is a central part of an energy plan. The EFL details what is included in your plan, from contract length, to rates, to renewable content and emissions. An EFL is available for all energy plans in Texas, regardless of the retail energy provider (REP).

The Electricity Facts Label and your Electricity Service

The EFL details a few specific sections about your plan. The REP and plan name are listed on the document so you know who and what it is you’re looking at. This makes it easier to compare different plans from the same or even a different REP. You can also see what the service area is for the plan, such as CenterPoint. Next, you’ll be able to see pricing breakdowns. This section tells you the costs of generating and delivering the electricity to your home or business. It will also outline any applicable fees, such as early termination. The rate you’ll be paying is measured in cents per kilowatt hour (¢/kWh). This is the standard measurement across all companies in Texas for easy to understand pricing.

The contract section tells you how long your contract is for. If you change providers or plans, or cancel your service before the contract expires, you could be subject to the early termination fee as noted in the pricing section. If you are on a prepaid or variable plan, this plan is month-to-month, so you can switch any time. Finally, the sources of generation section tell you what sources the energy is pulled from. This could be coal, nuclear, natural gas, solar, or wind power. Any renewable energy content (solar and wind) is noted as a percentage and is compared to the state average.