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10 Signs You've Found the Right Houston Electrical Provider

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[Tara Energy posted on  8/14/2015]

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More than a decade ago, Texas deregulated its electricity market to give consumers the power to choose their own providers. This was done with the best of intentions and should have, in theory, empowered consumers to choose the provider and plan that suited their individual needs the best. 

Many consumers became overwhelmed by the sudden influx of choices, however. Some providers offered unbelievably good deals that later turned out to be too good to be true. Sadly, but inevitably, the competition between electricity providers soon became one of confusing consumers, instead of providing better service for cheaper prices. After a decade, some consumers became savvy, and hoped to share their knowledge and experience with others. Here is their advice:


1) The first line of defense is PowerToChoose.org

A state sanctioned website, Power to Choose archives all available Texas electricity providers, their rates, and the various plans they provide. What this means for consumers is that they can search for plans that fit their exact criteria before deciding on a specific plan from a specific provider. However, consumers should make sure that they are getting their information from Power to Choose; sites with similar names providing similar services exist, but Power to Choose is the only one affiliated with the Public Utility Commission of Texas, and is therefore the most reliable.

Power to Choose can also provide invaluable insight into an energy provider's customer service record. Customers who have received unsatisfactory service from an energy provider can send in a complaint, which gets archived in the provider's "Complaint History" and configured into it's "Complaint Scorecard". Both are good ways to gauge a company's level of professionalism and service.

      

2) Look beyond the big names

One of the most interesting facts consumers will discover through Power To Choose is that some of the best-known energy providers actually have the greatest number of complaints. On the other hand, some smaller, lesser-known providers have stellar reputations.

Some consumers incorrectly assume that customers of big-name providers will receive service first in the case of a power outage. This is simply untrue; Centerpoint Energy is in charge of restoring power throughout Houston, and no energy provider has any pull over which consumers or areas are prioritized.


3) Understand your electricity bills and the monthly minimum fee clause

Consumers who travel a lot, as well as those who live in small apartments and those make an effort to conserve electricity, may find that their reduced usage does not do much for their electricity bills. Some providers include a minimum-fee clause in contracts. Basically, this means that consumers may end up paying for electricity that they didn't even use. 


4) Beware of low introductory rates

One of the textbook methods some energy providers use to lure in consumers is to offer an extremely low introductory rate. The catch is that the introductory rate is not fixed; it is variable, which means that the company can increase prices on a month-to-month basis. Many unhappy consumers have cited cases where their electricity rates have been drastically increased during their second month of usage. In some cases, consumers are also contractually bound to continue receiving service for several months, making it difficult to switch to another provider without paying a substantial penalty.


5) Be equally wary of freebies

If an electricity provider offers giveaways such as free nights and weekends, this usually means that rates are higher during the day or weekdays. While such plans may be beneficial for consumers who live certain lifestyles where the majority of their electricity usage occurs during these specific times, they can end up costing other consumers much more than they expected.


6) Understand the difference between a fixed rate and a variable rate.

Generally, Houston's energy providers offer two types of rates for their customers: fixed rates and variable rates.

Fixed rates do not change on a month-to-month basis, so the customers can predict their electricity bills more easily. These rates are good for a predetermined contractual period, which can range from a few months to a few years.

On the other hand, variable rates can change from month to month, usually based on market conditions. While some consumers may find themselves pleasantly surprised by lower-than-expected electricity bills, others may be shocked at how high their bill can jump from one month to the next.


7) Understand how to "switch"

When it comes to energy providers, switching means switching plans or providers. Some, like the Dallas Morning News's Dave Lieber, suggest that consumers switch providers regularly based on market fluctuations. Other consumers may find that their electricity usage patterns have changed, making a different kind of plan more beneficial. Whatever the reasons, it is important to understand whether there are fees regarding switching, and how soon this switch can be made.


8) Really read the contract

The tips mentioned cover only the most common pitfalls for energy consumers. It is still imperative that they read their contracts carefully to understand the various fees, penalties, and conditions of their individual electricity plans. If not, they could end up dissatisfied with their energy provider's service, yet contractually unable to leave them.


9) Understand the benefits of green energy

As a state, Texas has become a strong proponent of green energy. Green energy, which comes from environmentally renewable sources such as wind and hydro-power, causes far less pollution than traditional sources like coal and oil. However, rates for green energy can be harder on the wallet. In such cases, consumers can opt for hybrid products that combine renewable and traditional energy sources. In addition, some energy providers offer special rewards programs for customers who choose to go green.


10) Don't be afraid to ask

Consumers should not be afraid to speak up if there is a part of a potential contract that doesn't fit their needs, or if they want to combine components from two or more plans. Many energy providers would rather help potential customers customize their plans than lose their business. Some may even lower their rates, if a customer can give them a compelling reason to do so. It never hurts to ask.

Sources: 

Lieber, David. (2014, Feb 9). Watchdog: Here's the best way to pick an electricity company in Houston. The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved from http://www.dallasnews.com/investigations/watchdog/20140208-watchdog-heres-the-best-way-to-pick-an-electricity-company-in-texas.ece

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