There was a time when electricity was electricity. Like so many other places around America, in Houston, electricity didn’t mean “cheap electricity”. But you moved into your home and you called the utility and they turned on the power and the bill came in and you paid it every month. Oh, sure, you might grumble at the amount but then you’d go around and yell at the kids for leaving the lights on and the TV blaring with nobody in the room or maybe you’d look into buying more energy-efficient appliances. When it came down to it, the Bill was the Bill. Either you paid the bill or you ate dry packet meals, had cold showers, and watched TV by peering through the neighbor’s window after dark (preferably once they’d turned the TV on). What’s that? You want cheap electricity? Sure thing: call 1-800-WHO-CARES any time during regular business hours of 2:17am to 3:04am Sundays only.
Then, in 2002, Texas deregulated the electricity market and everybody cheered! Except that, sure, deregulation opened up the market to competition that may (or may not) have resulted in lower rates, but it introduced a whole host of other issues. These issues may not have been factors before but now they’re critical when you’re on the look-out for cheap Houston electricity providers.
1. Contracts: Before, there were no contracts. You signed up or you didn’t. When it’s the only game in town, you have to play by their rules. Nowadays, you’ll see these ultra-fabulous rates bandied about but it’s only by carefully scrutinizing the fine print that you’ll discover those wonderful rates come with a one-year lock-down or other catches.
2. Fraud: Too many people have been victimized by glib sales reps with promises of cheap electricity flowing in an unending stream only to discover that, as is so often true, “it ain’t necessarily so”. They’ve been locked into unwanted term contracts or there’s a catch – some utilities will give you the great rate only if you meet a usage minimum; basically, the “rate” is, in actuality, a “bulk purchase” discounted fee – or they paid a deposit never to hear from the rep again.
3. Customer service: When the only utility available has lousy customer service, nobody is surprised. They don’t even pretend to care – they know they have you over a barrel. With all these new players in town, however, it’s a slap in the face to be treated like royalty until you’ve signed on the dotted line and now they won’t even return your calls or the person on the phone can’t string three English words together or if he does speak English, he’s brand new and panicking trying to pull up your account information.
Keeping on top: With deregulation, a whole host of electric resellers jumped into the market because there’s a whole lot of electricity to sell: if Texas were a country, it’d be the 11th largest electricity consumer in the world! Just by itself, it uses as much electricity as Spain or Great Britain! That means there’s a whole lot of information you have to find, absorb, and process to make sure you’re getting the best rate for your needs.
There are ways you can keep these factors from landing you in the soup or from remaining trapped in a situation you don’t like:
- Vigilantly reading every term on a sheet of paper before you sign it will prevent you from falling victim to hidden fees, penalties, and usage minimums or limits.
- Not being afraid to say “no thank you” and, again, being vigilant about entering into new agreements will protect you from most fraud.
- Talk to your friends and relatives – find out what electricity reseller they’re using and get the 411 on the customer service and how they’re treated as a customer.
Your most effective weapon, however, is a site like ComparePower (Power to Choose) to locate and compare details from various Houston electricity resellers. In one fell swoop, you will efficiently and quickly locate and classify cheap electricity resellers all on one page, instead of wasting your valuable time searching out available companies and visiting their websites one by one (who even does that any more?).