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The Disaster that Shook the Texas Electricity Market

By now, the whole worlds know about the disaster that struck the Texas electricity grid when winter storm Uri struck the state in February.  There is no sugar coating it.  The debacle in February represented a failure of every level of the Texas electricity structure.  One of the world’s major energy hubs was unable to keep its citizens from freezing in their homes.

The Texas wind energy sector is one of the largest in the world but struggled to operate under the severe and prolonged freezing temperatures.  But wind was not the only or even the major contributor to the failure of the grid to supply enough power to keep the lights on for Texans.  The entire grid infrastructure was caught unprepared and under-winterized.

Texas still gets its largest portion of electricity from natural gas powered plants.  These failed in large numbers too along with coal and even nuclear power.  The winter blast affected all of these sources in different ways.  They all failed when they were needed most, leaving grid operators facing a nightmare scenario.   As the temperatures plummeted and demand for electricity skyrocketed, power plants began failing in rapid succession.  This was setting up a black swan scenario that could have resulted in a catastrophic failure that could have resulted in massive damage to the state’s electricity grid.  Residents could have been without power for months as much of the grid would have to be rebuilt.

In order to prevent the grid from succumbing to a cascading catastrophic failure, grid operators had to take the drastic step of off loading demand from the grid immediately early in the morning of February 15th.  And they had just moments in which to do it.  With snow covering virtually the entire state from Dallas to Houston to the border, they began cutting power to homes and businesses.  This action may have saved the grid from long term damage but it began a days long stretch of misery for Texans who would not be able to keep their homes warm.

 

Wholesale Electricity Rates Soar

The Texas electricity market is structured to incentivize private energy producers to build enough capacity to support the states’s electricity needs.  This is done by using the free market as a mechanism to set prices high enough in times of high demand to make it worth while for companies to invest in new power production.

Wholesale electricity rates update in real time to reflect the current demand for electricity within the marketplace.  On a typical mild spring night in Texas, the prices in the wholesale electricity market bottom out – often coming close to zero.   On hot summer afternoons, the spot price for electricity in Texas typically spikes.  The maximum allowable rate in the Texas electricity wholesale market is $9,000 per megawatt hour.  Over time the average price is around $50 per mWh.  This translates to about 5¢ per kWh.

One of the roles of Retail Electricity Providers (REPs) in Texas is to smooth out the prices by taking on the risk of volatility in the wholesale market while offering a more consistent rate to end users of electricity.

 

Shocking Electricity Bills for Some

The most sensational aspect of the misery suffered by Texans that week were the eye popping electricity bills reported on social media and evening news reports.  There were reports of electricity bills of over $16,000 for just a few days of electricity.  This however was not the experience of the typical Texas electricity consumer.  These bills reported in the media were largely, if not exclusively, from customers of the electricity provider Griddy Energy.

Griddy built their business by removing the safeguards provided by traditional electricity providers and exposing their customers directly to the prices of the wholesale electricity market.    Customers paid Griddy a monthly membership fee to gain access to the wholesale rate for electricity.

Most of the time this worked out great for Griddy customers because most of the time wholesale rates are lower than the rates one will find on fixed rate plans from Texas electric companies.  But when things went terribly wrong on the Texas electricity grid these consumers found themselves trapped.  They had no choice but to pay up to $9 kWh for electricity or turn their power off and freeze.

For some perspective, a home that uses 2000 kWh of electricity in a month may expect an electric bill of about $200 if we assume an electricity rate of 10¢ kWh.  If that same consumer had to pay $9 kWh, it would result in an electricity bill of $18,000!

For unsuspecting consumers, gambling on the wholesale electricity market was like canceling your homeowners insurance.  In most months you would save money because most of the time insurance isn’t used.  You could save money every month and could save money for years.  But when disaster strikes you could end up paying a ruinous amount of money.  Note: As of February 26th Griddy has been barred by ERCOT from participating in the Texas electricity market.  Their customers have been transitioned to other electric providers.

The vast majority of residential electricity users in Texas are on fixed rate electricity plans (or at least plans where rates are bound within a certain range).  This means that even as the wholesale electricity market shot to 180 times its typical price, electricity rates on bills stayed within the expected range.  For most Texans their electricity bill might be higher than normal to reflect higher usage during that period but will not be thousands of dollars higher than usual.  Ironically, some consumers may not see their bills go up at all since they were without power much of the time when temperatures were at their worst.

2020 Texas Electricity Rate Update

As the Covid-19 crisis of 2020 enters its 4th month, Texas electricity rates continue to decline. Average available electricity rates in deregulated areas of Texas are down from the prior month and down compared to last year.

In particular, three electric companies are offering aggressive rates targeted toward the 1000 kWh usage Texas customer.  4Change Energy, Gexa, and Frontier are all offering attractive plans featuring the cheapest electricity rates for small homes that use around 1000 kWh of electricity per month on average.

Compare The Cheapest Electricity Rates In Your Area
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This comes as residential electricity usage is near an all time seasonally adjusted high because of stay at home orders, school closures, and other measures that are keeping people in their homes rather than offices and schools.  Industry experts are expecting a record demand for electricity this summer even as rates are expected to hold steady.

In Dallas, the cheapest electricity rate available for a 12 month contract is the Maxx Saver 12 plan by 4change.  This plan features a targeted rate of 6.2¢/kWh for customers that use exactly 1000 kWh.  Due to the nature of the way electricity plans in Texas are structured, your actually average rate per kWh would vary depending on your exact electricity usage in a given month.

For larger homes, the Gexa Superb Saver 12 plan features a rate of 7.8¢/kWh for usages of 2000 kWh in a month.  The plan includes bill credits that kick in at the 1500 and 2000 kwh usage levels making this plan not a good choice for customers that use less than 1500 kWh in a given month.  These rates are for the Oncor service area which serves DFW and other parts of the state.   In Houston and other areas served by Centerpoint the rate is 8.0¢/kWh.  to find rates being offered by electric companies near you, enter your zipcode above to compare rates.

For apartments in most parts of the state, the Eagle 12 by Trieagle Energy offers the best rate at 10.0¢/kWh per kwh at 500 kWh.  This in the DFW area.  In Houston the rate is 10.6¢/kWh.

What Are the Biggest Users of Electricity in the Home?

Anyone who owns a house cat understands good energy-saving practice — power down when not in use — conserve energy until called to action. Americans in 2020 spent more time at home, mostly with a laptop plugged in and television streaming Netflix. Consequently, energy companies have witnessed an increase in residential power use.

Although expected, what can be done? Energy-savvy homeowners recognize that heat and cooling systems represent the biggest burdens on their utility bills, but what comes in second? Or third? Knowledge reflects power after all, and knowing the predominant users of home energy consumption can lead to energy savings.

Turning Up the Heat

Residential HVAC systems take the number one spot. Temperature control requires the most electricity use compared to anything else in the home. In fact, nearly 50% of energy consumption can be attributed to heating and cooling. Anyone who has lived in the Houston Texas during the summer can understand how crucial air conditioning can be, and Americans up North rely on heating to survive the blustery winter. While today’s heating and cooling systems work more efficiently than ever before, these complicated systems require significant electricity consumption. Consumers can take proactive steps to improve HVAC effectiveness, including changing air filters, keeping doors and windows closed, and practicing good thermostat use.

Water Heater Woes

Rinse and repeat might not be the best instruction any longer. The average American spends about eight minutes in the shower — though plenty linger beyond twenty minutes. Tack on the dishwasher and the washing machine, and Americans can attribute almost 15% of their home energy consumption on the water heater. Don’t turn to cold showers just yet though. Customers can use some tricks to curb hot water use. More efficient showerheads, shorter showers, and fewer loads of laundry can all reduce the electricity required by home water heaters. For example, a homeowner can turn down the thermostat on the hot water tank — most preset at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, but a setting of 120 degrees is hot enough for appliances and people. While down in the basement, consider adding insulation to exposed water pipes and even the hot water heater itself.

Laundry Day

Laundry Day represents more than a tragedy for outfit choices; washing machines and dryers place a close third in the race for at-home energy users, claiming 13% of the utility bill. And while old-fashioned washboards and laundry lines evoke a certain nostalgia, it’s an unrealistic practice for most busy Americans. Investing in more energy-efficient models can help, but new washers and dryers incur a substantial cost. Smart laundry practices include only running laundry with a full load and always cleaning out the lint trap in the dryer.

Lights Out

While obvious, home lighting places in the top five for electricity consumption — about 12%, though this can vary dramatically based on the type of bulb installed. LED bulbs use 75% less electricity than traditional incandescent light sources. Remember to turn off lights when not in use, or install a power cord and unplug multiple electronics with one switch.

Kitchen Culprits

The top five list can be rounded out with common kitchen appliances, specifically electric ovens and refrigerators. Separately, each of these consumes about 4% of the total home electricity usage. They comprise a part of everyday life —  no matter the season — so thankfully, they do not create too dramatic of an energy impact. Try not to linger over options with the refrigerator door open, especially in the summer.

Reducing Electricity Bills

Regardless of how much energy you use, you can reduce your electricity bill by ensuring you get your power from the cheapest electric companies available.  If you live in Texas, its a simple as comparing electricity rates from all the major providers right here and choosing the plan that works best for you.

What You Need to Know About The TXU Free Pass Plan (Updated 2020)

TXU is the company that popularized Free Nights and other time of day electricity plans in Texas.  Now the electric company that brought you Free Nights and Solar Days has introduced a plan called the TXU Energy Free Pass 12 Plan.

Note: Texas electricity rates change often.  The rates referenced in this review are as of July 2020.  To compare current TXU rates with other electric companies, enter your zip code at the top of this page.

How does the TXU Free Pass Plan work?

The plan is fairly simple.  For each billing period, TXU takes your 7 highest electricity usage days and subtracts those days from your bill.  For those days you are charged a 0¢/kWh energy charge and the typical pass through fees associated with Oncor or your local distribution utility are waived.

What is the KWh charge on the TXU Free Pass plan?

The electricity rate for the days you do pay for is very high.  In the Oncor service area which includes, Dallas and Fort Worth, the energy charge is 15.7¢/kWh.  In addition to that, you will pay the Oncor passthrough fee of 3.577¢/kWh.  This brings the total electricity rate to 19.3¢/kWh for the days you pay for.

If you used exactly the same amount of electricity every day of a 30 day billing cycle, your 7 free days would account for 23.3% of your total electricity usage.

TXU publishes an average electricity rate of 13.9¢/kWh for 1000 kWh of usage in the Oncor delivery area.  To arrive at this number, they assume that 33.1% of your electricity usage occurs during your 7 free days.

electricity rate for TXU Free Pass Plan

Every household is different. Its hard to predict exactly what your final average electricity rate would be.

The table below shows TXU’s published 1000 kWh average electricity rate for each delivery area including the 7 free days.  It also includes the energy charge plus TDU pass through charge for the non-free days of the plan.


TXU Free Pass Electricity Rates

City (TDU) 1000 kWh Average Rate Non-Free Day Rate
Dallas (Oncor) 13.9¢/kWh 19.3¢/kWh
Houston (Centerpoint) 14.9¢/kWh 20.9¢/kWh
Lewisville (TNMP) 14.9¢/kWh 19.9¢/kWh
Abiliene (AEPN) 13.9¢/kWh 19.1¢/kWh
Victoria (AEPC) 14.3¢/kWh 19.8¢/kWh

Is the TXU Free Pass plan a good deal?

TXU’s other time of use plans also have high base rates.  The challenge for consumers is to shift their electricity usage habits to take advantage of the free periods.  With Free nights or mornings plans, consumers can change when they do their laundry or wash their dishes.  They can change their pool timers or do other things to plan their daily electricity-intensive chores at the right time.

It’s a little more difficult, however, to shift electricity usage to specific days of the month.  Summer is approaching in Texas which means A/Cs are about to be running all day every day.  You can’t just shove all of your air conditioning into 7 days of the month.

For most consumers, this plan would act somewhat like a free weekends plan.  If you work during the week, you should be adjusting your thermostat to use less electricity to cool your home during the days when you are working.  On the weekend, when you are more likely to be home, you probably want to keep the thermostat at a more comfortable temperature.  You’re also more likely to do energy intensive household chores like laundry during the weekend.  This adds together to make the weekends likely your highest electricity usage days.

 

What else do I need to know about the Free Pass plan?

  • The plan comes with a 12 month contract commitment
  • The cancelation fee is $150
  • It has a base charge of $9.95 per month plus a pass through base charge from your TDU of between $3.42 and $10.53 depending on where you live.
  • The plan has a renewable energy content of 6%

See Also: TXU AutoSaver Plan

Filed under: TXU Free Pass Plan Review

What You Need To Know About the TXU AutoSaver Plan

Shopping for a cheap electricity rate in Texas is a tricky business.  Most electricity plans in Texas feature rate formulas rather than actual guaranteed rates.  The TXU AutoSaver plan is no exception.  At the end of the day, your actual electricity rate will depend on several factors; some of which are outside of your control.

Here we outline the details of this new plan and compare it to plans available from Gexa and TriEagle Energy.

The TXU Autosaver plan is advertised as a way to allow consumers to benefit from any drop in natural gas prices while protecting them from rising prices beyond a certain level.

The electricity rate in the TXU Autosaver 12 plan is tied to the price of natural gas.  As the primary source of fuel for electricity in Texas, natural gas drives much of the pricing of electricity. It should be noted that this plan comes at a time when natural gas prices are already near historical lows.  The plan features a price cap feature that puts an upper limit on the electricity rate once natural gas hits a price of $3.50/MMBtu.  At the time of this writing, that is about double the current price of natural gas.

 

Historical Price of Natural Gas

Natural Gas Historical Price Chart

 

What is the electricity rate on the TXU AutoSaver Plan?

The rate customers pay for this plan is based on a complicated formula that includes a “Natural Gas Factor”.  This allows the rate on the plan to fluctuate based on the monthly closing price for natural gas.  The plan also includes a flat monthly charge of $9.95, a Base Rate of 7.4¢ per kWh, and TDU pass through fees.

Here is how that looks:

Base Rate (per kWh) 7.4¢
Base Charge (per Month) $9.95
Natural Gas Charge (per kWh) 1.995¢
Flat Pass-through Delivery Charge $3.42
Pass-through Delivery Charge per kWh 3.5778¢
Total Average Rate (1000 kWh) 14.3¢/kWh

* For this illustration we used the pricing for the Oncor delivery area which includes the Dallas / Fort Worth area.  Different parts of the state have different rates. We will also assume a natural gas price of $1.50/MMBtu

The above data is pull from the plan’s Electricity Facts Label on July 14. 2020

TXU Autosaver EFL

Is the TXU AutoSaver Plan a Good Deal?

The plan does have an upside cap that prevents the Natural Gas Charge from going above 4.655¢.  This puts an upside limit on your effective electricity rate of 17.0¢ per kWh if you use 1000 kWh in a billing cycle.

But let’s consider a mathematically best case scenario where natural gas prices go to zero.  This is not a realistic real world scenario, but it allows us to see the absolute lower bounds of the electricity rate under this plan.

Base Rate (per kWh) 7.4¢
Base Charge (per Month) $9.95
Natural Gas Charge (per kWh)
Flat Pass-through Delivery Charge $3.42
Pass-through Delivery Charge per kWh 3.5778¢
Total Average Rate (1000 kWh) 12.3¢/kWh

Even at a zero cost of natural gas, this plan would still have an all-in electricity rate of 12.3¢ per kWh for the 1000 kWh usage level in the Oncor delivery area.  At the time of this writing, there are plans available with advertised rates below 6.0¢ at 1000 KWh usage in the Oncor delivery area.

To be fair, these plans have their own potential drawbacks.  Many of them rely on usage credits that kick in right around 1000 kWhs of usage to create a best case rate scenario right at 1000 kWh.  If your actual usage falls outside of this range your effective all-in electricity rate could be much higher than the advertised rate.  This is illustrated in the chart below.  You can see that the effective rate for the Gexa Saver Deluxe 12 Plan drops substantially at 1000 kWhs of use but jumps sharply once usage exceeds 2000 kWh.  This is because the usage credit only applies to usages that fall between 1000 and 2000 kWhs.

So how does the TXU AutoSaver plan compare to plans with a simpler structure?

Trieagle Energy, a company known for less complicated rate plans currently has a plan available for 9.7¢ per kWh at the 1000 kWh usage level.  This plan doesn’t rely on usage credits and isn’t indexed to the price of natural gas. This means your actual rate is going to be close to the advertised rate once your bill arrives.

Bottom Line

It’s very easy for a consumer of electricity in Texas to get stuck in the weeds trying figure out what is the cheapest electricity plan for them.  The plans are usually complicated, and the numbers can be overwhelming.  Below we have developed a chart that compares the TXU AutoSaver Plan to plans from Gexa and Triangle.  You can see at a glance what you might expect to pay for electricity based on how much electricity you use.  It also serves as an illustration of just how volatile electricity rates can be even under a single plan.

TXU vs Gexa and Trieagle kWh

This chart shows what your actual bill would be based on the same data.

TXU Gexa Trieagle cost

Summer Electricity Usage to be Lower in The U.S. but Higher in Texas

Nationwide electricity usage is expected to dip this summer even as electricity in Texas is expected to hit record highs.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration is projecting the lowest summer electricity usage in over 10 years across the country.  As with most things in 2020, these numbers are impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.  Specifically, a decline in usage in the commercial and industrial sectors is expected to decrease overall electricity demand for the country.   Even with states easing stay at home orders, the type of economic activity that drives electricity usage will be slow to ramp up.  The EIA forecast calls for a decline of 12% in commercial electricity usage.  Residential electricity usage is expected to increase 3% as people stay home during the pandemic.

Ordinarily, long term weather forecasts account for the largest part of the government’s forecast of electricity usage.  This year, however, weather is a secondary driver to the unprecedented shifts in lifestyle, manufacturing, and retail activity brought about by the pandemic.

This reduction in electricity demand will also result in a lower utilization of coal.  Coal power plants are often the last sources to come online when demand on electricity grids peak.  This will accelerate the already multiyear trend of natural gas and renewable energy sources taking power market share away from coal.  Coal is expected to account for only 17% of electricity production across the US this summer.  This is compared to 24% in the summer of 2019.

Despite the expected national decline in electricity usage over the summer, Texas officials are predicting record high demand for electricity in Texas. According to ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness:

“There is a lot of uncertainty in today’s world, but we are confident that Texas will still be hot this summer, Texans will need electric power as they do every summer, and ERCOT is prepared to do our part to keep it flowing reliably.”

Residential electricity usage represents a larger share of Texas energy usage than other parts of the country.  This is because of hot summers and larger houses.  Even though there is no statewide stay at home order in place, many people are still working from home and going out less.

As of June, summer 2020 electricity rates in deregulated parts of Texas are much cheaper compared to last year.   In both the Dallas and Houston areas the average electricity rate listed on Vaultelectricity.com is more than 1¢/kWh cheaper than this time last year for the 1000 kWh usage level.  This translates in to a $10 per month lower electricity bill at 1,000 kWhs per month.

 

 

What Factors Make Up Your Electricity Price? | Infographic

The amount of power used by your household influences your electric bill. The time in which you use energy could also be a significant factor in your electricity price. For instance, the peak hours for electricity demand are highest in the afternoon and the early evening. During these peak hours, wholesale electricity prices are usually higher. Supply and demand affect the cost of how electric power gets to your home.  Some electricity plans charge different rates at different times of the day because of this.

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The Factors that Influence the Price of Electricity

Electricity supply costs vary minute by minute and are calculated per kilowatt hour (kWh).

Fuels: High demand for electricity can increase demand for fuels, including natural gas. Higher demand results in higher costs to generate electricity.

Power Plants: The cost of constructing, maintaining and operating power plants influences the price of electricity.

Transmission and Distribution: Maintenance is a factor in the price. Costs also include repairs from damage caused by accidents or extreme weather conditions.  The expense of generating electricity is only a small part of electricity expenses.  Much of the cost associated with supplying electricity to consumers is in the cost of transmitting the electricity from the power plant to the end user.  This includes maintenance and upkeep on powerlines and relay stations along the way.  These costs are passed on to consumers in the form of higher electricity rates.

Weather conditions: Rain and snow provide beneficial amounts of water for generating low-cost hydropower. Favorable wind speeds provide low-cost electricity generated by wind turbines. Extreme weather conditions can raise prices. The cost of electricity is usually highest in the summer when demand is high for cooling.

Regulations: Where you live has an influence on what you pay for electricity. Some states have fully regulated prices. Others have a combination of both. Many states have deregulated energy markets, including Texas, California and New York.

Pro Tips On How to Cut Down on Your Electricity Bill

If possible, try to do all your laundry, dishwashing and other power-intensive tasks during off-peak hours. Tip: Some electric companies charge more for power used during the day rather than at night.

Pick the Right Provider: Do some research and discover a provider that offers time-of-day pricing. This format encourages electricity conservation and can help reduce peak demand. You can also choose a provider that utilizes green energy.

Lower Your Thermostat: During the summer, adjust your thermostat to 80 degrees, and when you’re not at home, adjust to 62 degrees in the winter.

Turn off Ceiling Fans and Lights: When you circulate the air in your home, it can make you feel more comfortable. However, if you’re not home, turn them off. The same thing applies to lights. If you don’t need them on, turn them off.

Unplug: Unplug fixtures or switch off the power strips when they’re not in use. When you unplug unused devices, you can reduce what is called “vampire energy.”

Replace Old Appliances: Older appliances are less likely to employ energy efficiency technology. Upgrade to ENERGY STAR®-certified appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines and dishwashers. You can even upgrade to an ENERGY STAR®-certified television.

Visit www.VaultElectricity.com for more information on how to choose the right electrical service provider.