Competition in the Texas electric market means that energy providers have created a wealth of new products and services designed to meet customers' individual needs and lower their electric bills. Such new products include fixed priced plans which give customers budget certainty, time-of-use plans that let customers take advantage of lower rates during off-peak times, seasonal rates designed for customers with electric heat, prepaid products for customers looking to avoid costly deposits, and many more. Soon, Texas electric companies will be offering electric plans designed specifically for customers with plug-in electric vehicles.
One of the newest products introduced last year by several Texas energy companies is a program where customers with distributed generation -- like rooftop solar panels -- may sell their excess generation back to their energy supplier. Not only do these customers save money by generating their own power, they receive a credit when they generate more power than they need, further reducing their monthly electric bill.
However, such product innovation is typically only available in parts of the state where customers can choose their electric company. While about 85% of Texas' electric customers have such choice, several areas, such as El Paso and San Antonio, do not have electric competition, and customers cannot choose their energy supplier. That means customers are stuck with whatever their monopoly utility offers them, and there is no product innovation or money-saving alternatives aside from what the utility decides to do.
For example, El Paso residents with rooftop solar systems can't contract with an energy provider to buy back their excess solar generation, like customers in Houston, Dallas and Corpus Christi can do under electric competition. State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh noted that in Houston, thanks to the solar buyback program available under electric choice, some customers' monthly electric bills were actually credits of $20 -- that is, they had zero electricity charges, and were being paid $20 per month to credit their solar generation. Customers with electric choice can make providers compete for their excess solar power, and be paid a price anywhere from 7.5¢ per kilowatt-hour to 10¢ per kilowatt-hour for their extra energy.
El Paso Electric, meanwhile, remains a, "1950s electric company," Shapleigh writes, and does not offer the innovative, money-saving options that are available under electric choice.