Free electricity is a phrase you’ll hear a lot about when you’re shopping for a new energy plan. Unfortunately, these plans only offer free electricity on weekends or at night, depending on what energy companies are advertising. This is because there really is no such thing as completely free electricity. In fact, you’ll pay more for your electricity during those hours that aren’t free. For this reason, these plans are best for families who aren’t home during the day and people who work traditional, 9 – 5 jobs.
Variable Rate Plans: Designed as month-to-month contracts, these plans are in total control of your energy provider, which can shift the price you pay per kWh at its discretion. This means you, the consumer, are in a better place to reap the benefits when the energy market falls — but it also means you're at risk for hikes in prices, whether as a result of natural disasters or the provider's bottom line. Variable plans always offer a full year of price history to show the average price per kWh so you can get a sense of what you're getting into (like this one from Reliant) and know this: Variable plans don't have cancellation fees. You can cut your service at any time — a huge incentive for REPs to keep their prices reasonable.
Twenty bucks compared to a $2,000 bill? Not much to write home about, but hey — it’s free money. And, true, you’ll still get some free money when you use less energy, but rewards only really seem reward-y if you're shelling out big bucks. That same Direct Energy plan only yields about $6 in Plenti points per year if you use 500 kWh of electricity each month.
Prepaid electricity allows you to buy your electricity before consuming it. This is similar to a pre-paid cell phone in that you’ll pay the Retail Electric Provider (REP) upfront. You can then manage how much electricity you use throughout the month. These prepaid energy plans are best for people who can pay their bills on time and can receive notices via text or email. They’re also a good option for anyone who doesn’t have money for a large deposit, people with bad credit, anyone who wants to cut down on their electric use, or who need to split the electric bill with their roommates.
For example, if you use a small amount of energy each month, you expect to be rewarded — right? Unfortunately, nearly all electricity plans from Texas REPs are advertised as costing more per kWh the less electricity you use. It’s a little like buying in bulk: Providers often discount your bill when you cross certain kWh thresholds. For instance, one 12-month plan from StarTex Power quotes 8.1 cents per kWh for 1,000 kWh a month and 8.8 cents for 2,000 kWh per month, but 12.1 cents for 500 kWh per month. Why the difference? Customers get $35 back each month if they pass 1,000 kWh of use, and another $15 back per month if they cross 2,000 kWh. In this case, using half as much electricity as your neighbor on the same plan wouldn’t get you half the bill.
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