"Retail electric providers in Texas’ deregulated market are offering residential rates that in many instances are lower than those of some municipal power companies, electric cooperatives and investor-owned utilities that are still under rate regulation," the Forth Worth Star-Telegram confirmed in a new survey.

Noting that Texas electric providers have sharply lowered rates in response to a plunge in prices for natural gas, the Star-Telegram reports that, "many consumers in Dallas-Fort Worth and other deregulated markets have been entering into fixed-rate plans of one year or longer to lock in lower rates before natural gas prices bounce back, as energy analysts have forecast will occur once the economy rebounds and gas supplies tighten."

In a recent review of energy prices, the Star-Telegram found that the average rate for customers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area was 10.64 cents per kilowatt-hour, and that the average rate for the 50 cheapest plans was 9.62 cents per kilowatt-hour.  Five plans were under 9 cents, the Star-Telegram reported.

The Star-Telegram found 110 different electric rates and products available for customers in the Dallas-Fort Worth market.  That kind of clutter can be intimidating to a customer shopping for a first time.

"Many of those deregulated rates are lower than rates offered by some munis, co-ops and IOUs [investor-owned utilities] operating outside the deregulated market overseen by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas," the Star-Telegram noted.

The Star-Telegram survey showed average rates of 9.58 cents for five regulated IOUs; 10.43 cents for six munis; and 10.88 cents for six co-ops.

But customers have to switch electric providers and shop for the best rate to save money, the Star-Telegram noted.

Many customers who never have switched from their longtime "legacy" electric utility might be paying 14 cents or more, Tim Morstad, associate state director for AARP Texas, told the Star-Telegram.

In other words, shopping for a lower electric rate could save these customers as much as $50 per month, or $600 per year, based on average residential usage of 1,000 kilowatt-hours.

"Some people have just cut the same check to the same company for so many decades they’ll keep doing that," instead of switching, Morstad said.

That's why customers need to compare electric rates, to ensure that they are paying the lowest rate for electric service.