I just locked in my electric plan, and for the first time since deregulation in 2002, I’m feeling secure that I picked the lowest-cost plan.
After last week’s column about the difficulty of comparing rates using the Public Utility Commission’s PowerToChoose website, a Fort Worth engineer and two Dallas procurement executives came to me with online tools they have developed that use my own energy usage to determine the lowest-cost plan.
Right now, one tool is free. And it saved me more than $500 over the lowest rate plan suggested by the PowerToChoose website.
The two services, www.GeekYourRate.com and www.EnergyChoiceExperts.com, allow electric customers to enter their actual usage over a 12-month cycle and then applies that data to the hundreds of plans available. The sites use proprietary algorithms to give you a tailor-made report that ranks the plans according to real-time prices.
Both services also claim to be independent from the electric retail industry. A number of other website tools offer free rate comparisons, but they receive commissions or fees from certain retailers in the Texas market.
Until January, GeekYourRate is free, said founder Mark Trimarchi, a retired Fort Worth engineer who launched his site in July. In 2017, the site will charge $9.95 for 48 hours of access.
Trimarchi has spent much of his life figuring out how to save money on energy. A mechanical engineer, he spent the last 26 years squeezing out energy costs for the federal government’s General Services Administration in Fort Worth.
“I was in charge of the energy program — all things related to energy conservation and utilities for over 25 million square feet of federal buildings, U.S. courthouses and border stations in Texas and the surrounding four states,” he said.
Because of his background, friends, family and co-workers were constantly asking Trimarchi which electric provider to use. So he built a spreadsheet to compare rates with actual usage.
“One example is the lady who sat next to me at work,” Trimarchi said. “She was paying 15.6 cents with TXU, which is what people who have never switched are typically paying. She was paying $4,000 a year for a 2,500-square-foot house. I shopped the hard way using my spreadsheets and saved her more than 50 percent with another plan.”
Trimarchi moved from spreadsheets to a website in July. He updates it daily with prices and plans from the PowerToChoose website.
My electric contract was up, so I tried GeekYourRate.
First I went to www.SmartMeterTexas.com and registered using the smart meter number and ESIID number on my electric bill. From there I was able to find my monthly usage over the last 12 months. You can also find this information by gathering 12 months of your electric bills.
I plugged those numbers into GeekYourRate with my ZIP code, and the tool immediately provided a list of electric retailers, starting with the cheapest 12-month, fixed-rate plan.
You can change the filters on the side of the page for your own preferences. If you want a three-month plan, variable rate or renewable plan, just change the filters.
I prefer a 100 percent renewable energy, 12-month plan, so I added those filters and the tool showed me exactly what I needed to know: Dallas-based Breeze Energy was the lowest-cost plan available for me at 7.6 cents per kilowatt hour for 1,000 kilowatt hours usage or 7.1 cents per 2,000 kilowatt hours usage.
This kept me from making a costly mistake. If I had chosen the lowest-cost leader on the Public Utility Commission’s PowerToChoose website, I would have gone with Frontier, which shows 4.5 cents per 1,000 kilowatt hour usage but increases to 9.8 cents at 2,000 kilowatt hours.
While No. 1 on the PUC website, the Frontier plan actually ranked 27th on the GeekYourRate site after I plugged in my usage. And the difference in annual costs between the two plans was substantial — $576, according to GeekYourRate.
“My site offers an apples-to-apples comparison,” said Trimarchi. “It’s PowerToChoose on steroids.”
Another key point to the site is its independence, meaning Trimarchi does not get a commission or any other fee from electricity retailers for providing his plan rankings. In order to sign up for a plan, consumers must leave Trimarchi’s site by clicking on a link directly to the retailer’s website.
During Trimarchi’s daily updates, he often notices problems on the PUC website. He said he contacts the PUC regularly when he sees discrepancies with information provided by the electric retailers.
Other electricity service sites either charge more or, if they are no-cost, are not independent and only offer a handful of companies to compare.
EnergyChoice Experts, co-founded by Dallasites Scott Hundley, an engineering services procurement manager for Texas Instruments, and Greg Steagall, director for energy procurement for Dean Foods, provides a list of three renewable and three nonrenewable plans after you provide your energy usage. The site charges $35.
“The PowertoChoose site shows average electric usage rates, which is silly because our summer and winter usage is very different,” Hundley said. “The key to picking the lowest-cost plan is the consumption every month.” Hundley said his site also is independent from the electric retail industry.
Both sites’ founders said the retail electric industry is fraught with tricks and gotchas in rate plans, making it difficult for the average consumer to compare. Also, while it’s useful to check out a company’s complaint history, it’s important to note that complaints about electricity providers have declined significantly.
So take the time to try one of these tools. You may be able to save a bundle.
Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net