Electric Shopping Tips

Written on: April 10, 2012

The state’s powertochoose.com website has useful information for electricity shoppers.

A good way to compare electricity deals is Texas is by checking out the state’s powertochoose.com website. There, you’ll find descriptions of various electricity deals in your zip code – deals that you can sort by price or length of contract. There’s also information with which to compare promotional deals and prepaid deals.

Powertochoose.com has other helpful tools, such as the “Energy Facts Labels” pertaining to individual electricity offers. These Energy Fact Labels contain information about price, renewable energy content, and a broad outline of contract terms and conditions. Likewise, powertochoose.com has complaint data about individual retail electric providers. This data, in particular, can help savvy electric shoppers avoid bad choices.

But even for savvy shoppers, making true apples-to-apples comparisons can be nearly imopssible. That’s because there exists no uniformity in electricity contracts in Texas, and only a limited amount of uniformity among contract terms.  The creation of standard offer products (as proposed by the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power) could help reduce the confusion. In the meantime, it’s important to use the tools already at hand, and to understand the customer protection rules that already exist.

Just below is a list of five important customer protection rules adopted by the Public Utility Commission. Below the fifth rule, regarding bill content, is a list of rules for what actually goes into home bills.  You can also go here for descriptions of charges and fees commonly found in electricity contracts.

  1. Frequency of Bills — a retail electric provider shall issue bills monthly, unless service is provided for a period less than one month. A REP may issue a bill less frequently than monthly if both the customer and REP agree to such an arrangement.
  2. Delivery of Bills — a REP shall issue bills to residential customers in writing and delivered via the United States Postal Service. REPs may instead provide bills electronically if both the customer and REP agree to such an arrangement.
  3. Estimated Bills — if a REP is unable to issue a bill based on actual meter reading, the REP may issue a bill based on the customer’s estimated usage and inform the customer of the reason for the estimated bill.
  4. Record retention — A REP shall maintain monthly billing and payment records for each account for at least 24 months after the bill is mailed. A copy may be obtained by the customer upon request, and free of charge once per 12-month period.
  5. Bill Content — Each customer’s bill shall include the following information:
  • The certified name and address of the REP and the number of the license issued by the REP by the Public Utility Commission.
  • A toll-free telephone number, in bold face, which the customer can call during specified hours for inquiries and to make complaints to the REP about the bill.
  • A toll-free telephone number that the customer may call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to report power outages and concerns about the safety of the electric power system.
  • The service address, electric service identifier (ESI), and account number of the customer.
  • The service period for which the bill is rendered, and the date on which the bill was issued.
  • The payment due date of the bill and, if different, the date by which payment from the customer must be received by the REP to avoid a late charge.
  • The current charges for electric service, including applicable taxes and fees. If the customer is on a level or average payment plan, this shall be clearly shown in addition to the current charges.
  • A calculation of the average unit price for electric service for the current billing period. The calculation shall reflect the total of all fixed and variable recurring charges, but not include state and local sales taxes and non-recurring charges or credits.
  • The identification and itemization of charges other than charges for electric service.
  • The itemization and amount of any non-recurring charge, including late fees, returned check fees, restoration of service fees or other fees disclosed in the REP’s terms of service agreement.
  • The balances from the preceding bill, payments made by the customer since the preceding bill, and the amount the customer is required to pay by the due date.
  • A conspicuous notice of any services or products being provided to the customer that have been added since the previous bill.

– R.A. Dyer

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