High electricity rates in Texas – the sequel

March 14, 2019   By Arthur Murray

High electricity rates in Texas – the sequel

The electricity rates replay nobody wanted heads back to Texas this summer. Tight electricity supplies, coupled with huge demand, means high prices again for Texas residential power customers.

The case for struggles again this summer surfaced earlier this month with an announcement from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs the Texas power grid. It expects the system to have 78,154 megawatts of capacity during the summer to meet an expected peak demand of 74,853 megawatts – higher than last summer’s record. (One megawatt can power about 1,000 homes.)

ERCOT’s 7.4 percent reserve planning margin is its lowest ever, and that means electricity will be tight. That could mean outages and other measures during the hottest parts of the summer.

The end result: Price increases as the cost of wholesale electricity gets passed along to customers in the form of higher electricity rates.

What happened last year to residential electricity rates

State officials issued similar warnings last year, as generation capacity fell because of the closures of coal plants and delays in construction of natural gas plants. Sure enough, Texans wound up with record demand, but ERCOT maintained an 11 percent reserve margin.

Even so, Texas electricity rates increased at least 2.9 percent every month from March through the rest of the year – with big increases in May, July and August. Residential rates jumped 9 percent from January through November.

Business customers paid more as well

Summer 2018 prices also were rough on Texas businesses. Commercial rates were substantially higher from March through August than they were in the corresponding months of 2016. The hikes averaged 7.5 percent more during those six months.

Worst of all were industrial rates, up 5.6 percent from June 2017 to June 2018, 8.4 percent in July, and 6.2 percent in August.

What Texans can do about the threat of high prices

Let’s face it. Texas gets hot in the summer, but there are still ways you can cut your electricity bills during the summer:

  • Keep the sun out: Use curtains, shades or blinds to block direct sunlight whenever possible. This can keep rooms cooler and reduce dependence on air conditioning.
  • Adjust the thermostat: You want the house cool, but that doesn’t mean it should be cold. Set your thermostat at a higher temperature. If you have a programmable thermostat, even better: There’s no need to cool your home while you’re at work.
  • Be a fan of fans: Ceiling fans help more than most folks realize – homeowners can raise the thermostat temperature by about 4 degrees with no reduction in comfort.
  • Change your HVAC filters: Do this at least twice a year – many people do it whenever the time changes.
  • Pick your spots: Run the dishwasher overnight to avoid peak usage times for electricity. And use cold water to wash clothing.
  • Avoid energy vampires: Even when they’re turned off, most electronics use electricity. Unplug them – power strips can help with this. Another big culprit – phone and tablet chargers, even when they’re not actually charging anything, they’re consuming electricity. Unplug them when possible.

One other way to control summer power bills

The tips listed above can help you cut your electricity usage, but there is still the matter of your electricity rate. It’s going to be high this summer – unless you live in a deregulated area of the state. You probably do – about 85 percent of the state requires customers to pick their electricity suppliers.

Still, it’s easy to get lazy – or forgetful – and stuck in a higher rate than necessary. SaveOnEnergy.com is the largest electricity marketplace in the state, and you can easily shop for new rates and lock them in through what promises to be a hot, difficult summer. Visit the SaveOnEnergy Texas page and enter your ZIP code to see what’s available where you live.

Rates are expressed in cents per kilowatt hours and vary greatly depending on the amount of electricity customers use each month. It’s important to read the Electricity Facts Label to make of what you’ll pay for your usage. Also, you could be charged an early termination fee if you break a contract with a supplier to get a new rate.

If that sounds complicated, call the number on the Texas page. An energy professional will go over plans with you to find the one that works for your situation.

The important takeaway: Electricity prices could go sky-high this summer; avoid paying them by locking in a rate now.

Photo credit/Shutterstock