Last week showed the dangers of choosing an energy provider without some qualified assistance, and why it’s essential customers get some help from a company like before making an uninformed decision.

National Power Company of Houston did the unthinkable and tried to raise rates for customers on fixed-price contracts, citing a buried “material change” clause in customers’ contracts.

Customers who thought they were guaranteed a good rate of about 11¢ per kilowatt-hour shockingly started getting letters saying National Power was going to jack up the rate to 15.3¢, even though customers believed they had signed for a fixed price for as long as 18 months.

After customer outrage, the Texas Public Utility Commission pulled National Power’s listing from the state’s electric choice website, and started an investigation.

The experience – unfortunately not the first of its kind in Texas – shows the dangers of just picking the cheapest offer available in the market, regardless of provider.

With nearly 30 electric companies competing for residential customers (and about 100 for business customers), customers face a mountain of complex contracts and “Terms of Service” documents filled with legalese and technical jargon even some industry expects don’t understand.

That means customers need help when sifting through all the clutter to determine what really are the best deals. offers just such a service, blasting through the promises and marketing to give customers the best handful of products from a certified list of energy providers .

The experts at vet each energy supplier to make sure each is consistent and honest with pricing, is highly regarded with strong business ethics and is financially stable.Only the best make the cut.

The energy suppliers on aren’t going to pull a fast one on customers by trying to break a fixed-price contract.They’re reputable energy providers with a strong record in the marketplace that will be around for a long time.

It’s tough for customers to judge an energy provider themselves.The Public Utility Commission doesn’t publish complaint statistics, while local better business bureaus may have incomplete complaint info on energy providers .

That’s why it’s risky for consumers to just look at a list of prices and make a decision.Some of the electric companies offering the lowest prices are also the least known. takes the guesswork out of choosing an energy provider and gives customers peace of mind.It also offers a variety of products to fit customer needs, from renewable products to plans including airlines miles or gift cards, as well as different term lengths to offer customers the level of price certainty they desire.

While National Power has since backed down and promised to honor the 11¢ rates, its customers aren’t out of the woods yet.National Power obviously had a reason to raise rates while risking the ire of customers, and now it won’t be getting that extra income.

In the past, many marginal electric companies have been hurt by wild swings or increases in natural gas prices like the spikes we’ve seen recently, especially if they have tried to offer lower prices by gambling on fuel prices.Consumers may remember names like Texas Commercial Energy, Ampro Energy, Utility Choice Electric or Ideal Energy – all of which went out of business.

What happens to customers when their energy supplier goes out of business?They are switched to a company called the “Provider of Last Resort” (POLR).The problem is, the POLRs charge an extremely high price for this “backstop” service, because they never know when they might be required to serve new customers.POLR prices are based on high, volatile wholesale electricity prices plus a premium, and are severely penal to consumers.That’s why customers want to avoid being switched to a POLR at all costs.

What this means for National Power customers is that while they might feel good about keeping their 11¢ rate, they need to start thinking about National Power’s viability.If National Power was trying to raise prices because it couldn’t cover its costs to buy wholesale power, it might be facing a crunch in making regulated credit or other financial obligations required to trade power and function in the market.If National Power ultimately can’t meet those obligations, customers will still wind up losing their 11¢ rate, and be transferred to the highest price in the market: POLR rates.

No one can say if that’s likely to happen, but customers need to weigh their risks.If National Power can’t survive in the market, customers might be better off switching to another fixed-rate with a more reputable electric company now at 12¢ or 13¢, rather than waiting a few months only to see National Power go out of business, and leave customers scrambling to find a replacement deal during the height of summer, when fixed-prices might cost 15¢, 16¢ or even 17-18¢.

While electricity rates have jumped because of rapid rises in natural gas and oil costs, customers in some parts of Texas can still get a good deal.Residential customers in the Texas New Mexico Power utility area can still get a one-year, fixed price of 11.9¢ on from Gexa Energy, while the same product costs 12.3¢ for customers living in the AEP Texas North area (Abilene). For Dallas area customers in the Oncor region, the cheapest one-year fixed offer on is 13.5¢ from Direct Energy.Prices are higher for the Houston and Corpus Christi areas, but still has several one-year, fixed-price offers from energy providers under 15¢ in each area.

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