Falling energy prices continue to give Texas electric customers an early Christmas gift, as lower electric rates give Texans the opportunity to lock-in a low, fixed electric rate for the coming year.

Fears of a prolonged recession overpowered announced production cuts by OPEC, with oil ending the week at $33.87 a barrel, a four and a half year low. Natural gas ended the week at $5.55/MMbtu after dropping another 7¢ Friday. Persisting low energy prices translate into good deals for Texas electric customers, who have an opportunity to lock-in a cheap rate for 12 months or longer, and ensure continued savings even if prices rebound in the new year.

In more good news for Texas customers, a study commissioned by the state Public Utility Commission found that a new market design for the state's grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), will save customers $5.6 billion over 10 years. The so-called "nodal" market, which will increase the pricing points on the ERCOT system, will allow ERCOT to run the market more efficiently, and use the lowest-cost generation more often. The nodal market will also reduce the impact of "congestion" on transmission lines, which, just like on the roads, prevents cheaper power from flowing to customers. Although the market has been delayed to December 2010, and will cost $660 million (double the original cost), the study finds the market will, overall, produce big savings to customers.

Customers in the Houston area will soon be getting another way to save money as the Public Utility Commission approved new "advanced" meters for customers at CenterPoint Energy. The "smart" meters will allow customers to track their power usage in real-time in their home, allowing them to take more conservation measures to lower their bill. The meters will also support products that price power more cheaply during certain times of the day, allowing customers to shift some of their usage (such as washing clothes) to times when the rate is cheaper.

The meters will be deployed between now and January 2014, with 145,000 installed in 2009 and 500,000 every year thereafter. Customers in Dallas are also having smart meters installed by Oncor.

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