Texas electric customers are winning "big time" under the state's competitive electric markets, where customers can choose a lower electric rate, says Mitchell Schnurman in a recent Fort Worth Star Telegram column.

"In North Texas, it's easy to find electricity for 25 percent less than the national average ...  Many rates are now lower than regulated municipal plans and cooperatives in the state," Schnurman writes.

By getting retail electric providers to compete against each other, customers are able to win lower rates and also receive better quality of service, and well as value-added products and bonuses like airline miles, rebates, and more.

Surveys show that some 80% of Texas electric customers have made an affirmative choice when it comes to their electric supplier.

However, that leaves 20% who have never shopped around or switched to a lower rate.  These customers, who continue to be served by the "incumbent" provider, may be paying energy rates as much as double the average rates in the market.

That's why Texas electric customers need to check their energy rate and compare it to current offers.  Even though the price of oil has skyrocketed, electric rates -- which are tied to the relatively calm natural gas market -- remain at lows not seen in the last 10 years.  That means it's still a great time to shop around, compare rates, and find a new energy provider.

It's important to remember that no matter who you buy your electricity from, the delivery of your electricity over the poles and wires is still regulated by the Public Utility Commission, through your local utility such as Oncor, CenterPoint, or AEP.  When you switch electric providers in Texas, Oncor, CenterPoint and AEP still remain your distribution provider, and still deliver your electricity.  Switching to a competing energy provider doesn't affect your reliability or outage restoration time; Oncor, CenterPoint and AEP will still respond to all outages and emergencies as they normally would, and your status with them won't change.

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