Although electricity had been known to be produced as a result of the chemical reactions that take place in an electrolytic cell since Alessandro Volta developed the voltaic pile in 1800, its production by this means was, and still is, expensive. In 1831, Michael Faraday devised a machine that generated electricity from rotary motion, but it took almost 50 years for the technology to reach a commercially viable stage. In 1878, in the United States, Thomas Edison developed and sold a commercially viable replacement for gas lighting and heating using locally generated and distributed direct current electricity.
In summary, fixed-rate plans provide a level of certainty and stability in your energy charge since the price will not fluctuate over the life of your contract. If prices suddenly spike, you are protected because your rate is locked in. The flip side is that if rates drop over the life of your contract, you’ll be stuck paying the higher rate. You can incur steep cancellation fees if you change electricity plans or providers before the end of your contract term.
An additional bill was passed in 1999 that helped further establish a competitive electricity market by creating a price floor to prevent established energy providers from underselling emerging providers. In 2002, Texas finalized deregulation when the Public Utility Commission gave ERCOT the responsibility of managing and monitoring the Texas electricity market. The market opened up to around 6 million Texas power customers.
Texas deregulated most of the state's electricity markets in 2002, a move aimed at lowering electricity costs by letting consumers choose their own electric power providers and their own plans. Some parts of Texas continued to be regulated, including those whose power is proved by municipally-owned utilities, electric cooperatives and investor-owned utilities that operate outside the state's primary power grid.
Multi-year electricity contracts are not unusual; this method of structuring customer timelines is. Our guess: It’s a holdover style of billing from FirstEnergy’s involvement with governmental aggregations — municipal groups that get together and buy their energy as a community. Rather than have the option of a long term or short term plan, consumers are forced to take what’s available to them at the time.
Most of Direct Energy’s plans allow you to earn Plenti points — you get 1,000 as soon as you sign up. That initial windfall is about as good as it gets. You keep accumulating rewards with every payment, but just one point for every dollar you spend on supply charges (what you pay to Direct Energy vs. your EDC — so about two-thirds of your total bill). A Plenti point equates to about one cent, so that 1,000 point bonus works out to $10 when you cash it in with a Plenti merchant (Rite Aid, Macy’s, etc.) You’d have to spend a further $1,000 in supply charges before making off with another $10.00 in Plenti points.
With moderate fluctuations taken into account, the variable plans is still cheaper. Our bill is approximately $10 more in the winter, but we’d still save $138 over the course of a year. It’s more a question of whether you can roll with the punches of an unpredictable rate, or would sleep easier knowing your bill is going to look the same month after month.
Of course, choosing a new electricity supplier or natural gas supplier does not mean you are replacing your utility. Your utility will still deliver whatever energy supply you choose, safely and reliably. Since your utility company depends on where you live, you don't have to worry about choosing a utility company. In general, utilities are responsible for maintaining the energy infrastructure. If you experience a power outage or see a downed power line, call your utility company. These are listed in the Utility Companies column below.