In Texas power market, flighty customers pose challenge
From television commercials to sales reps at the supermarket, the push to uproot Texans from those companies that have traditionally supplied electricity here continues to gain ground.
New data from the state’s grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, shows that the number of residential customers that have at some point left their incumbent electrical provider — for instance, TXU Energy in Dallas or Reliant in Houston — has now reached two thirds of all the electricity customers on the grid.
The tendency to shop around for electrical providers has been steadily growing since the Texas Legislature voted to deregulate the state’s electricity market in 1999, ending monopolies over power generation and sales held by a handful of utilities.
But what seemed a tough sell in the early years — six years ago more than half the state’s home power customers were still with their legacy provider — has now reached a critical mass.
“It’s education and marketing. The retail electric providers have been reaching out to customers, and customers are catching on,” said ERCOT CEO Trip Doggett in an interview before he steps down as CEO next month. “Deregulation has been very successful if you look at the rate to an ERCOT consumer. Most of that is the price of natural gas, but increased competition is a factor.”
Nowadays a customer can click on the state-run website PowerToChoose.org and compare plans with rates advertised as low as 1.5 cents a kilowatt-hour — enough to power a small home for about $15 a month, depending on the fine print.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average Texan pays less for electricity now than in 2009, and pays 11 percent less than the average American — a gap that has grown in the last year.
For power retailers, the drop in power prices and savvier customers has led to fierce competition.
“It’s a good time to be a retailer,” said Rob Snyd