Reliant"s "free" weekends are not exactly free.

Reliant”s “free” weekends aren’t exactly free.


Last week we reported on TXU’s Free Nights and Weekends plans. The conclusion: even with a big change in your energy-consuming habits, TXU’s electricity-for-free deals probably will cost you more.

But what about the state’s other big electric retailer, Houston’s Reliant Energy? They also offer time-of-use deals. How do they compare?

Here again, the news is not good.

Like TXU, Reliant offers a Free Weekend deal. But unlike TXU, the free weekends under Reliant’s plan aren’t really free. That is, even if you consume 100 percent of your electricity during those supposedly “free” weekend hours, you’d still end up with an electric bill.

How is this possible? Just look at the fine print.

Reliant claims in a press release that “with the Reliant Free Weekends 24 plan, customers get … a free energy charge all weekend long.” Notice the release says “free energy charge.” Not free energy, but free energy charge. What the release doesn’t make clear is that customers still have to pay 3.4 cents for transmission and distribution services during all hours of service — even during the weekend.

Free Weekends and Free Nights Plans
from TXU also can end up costing you more.

That means that under Reliant’s “Free” weekend plan, a typical customer would end up paying 3.4 cents per kilowatt hour during those weekend hours when the customer might reasonably expect to pay nothing. Customers also would pay an astronomical 16 cents per kWh during non-weekend hours. For a typical customer, this means a combined weekend/non-weekend rate exceeding 12 cents per kWh.

Now consider that there are plenty of deals available for 10-cent power, and you can see why Reliant’s “free” weekend deal may end up costing you more.

Whether a deal is right or not can be a difficult call. Our advice is always to check the state-operated website. There you’ll find both the “Energy Facts Labels” and complaint data for retail electric providers. Look at both, and be wary of gimmick deals and free offers. They may end up costing you more in the long run.

One other note: The Texas Coalition for Affordable Power has called for the creation of “standard offer products,” which will help consumers cut through much of this confusion. Under the Standard Offer Product idea, retail electric providers in Texas would be required to offer standardized deals along with all their other electricity deals. The terms and conditions of these standardized deals would be set by the Public Utility Commission. The prices would be set by the retailers.

Standardized deals would open the door to true apples-to-apples comparisons in the Texas retail electricity market. To find out more about standard deals, check out the video here. And if you think standardized deals are right for Texas, consider calling or writing your local lawmaker. You can find contact information here.

— R.A. Dyer

What is the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power?

TCAP is a coalition of more than 160 cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.