Prepaid Electricity Company Rules in Texas

The PUCT of Texas has written some new rules for the public to review about if prepaid electricity companies in Texas should begin transitioning their customers over to a HAN device (Home Area Network). This is typically a ZigBee Smart Energy chip on the meter that allows a home electric meter to send back real time prepaid electricity data to the electric utility. As of June 2009 there were no commercially available in-home devices for checking your real time prepaid electricity meter data however the PUCT has made it available on their portal but you have to wait one day before you can see it. Start looking out for the smart meter Texas portal which will be available for anyone with a smart meter as well as those prepaid electricity customers using a smart meter and Zigbee smart meter chip to allow prepaid information to transfer over to the electric utility. At this time this smart meter payment system is not available for prepaid electricity customers in Texas. You will need to continue to use Ace Cash, telephone payment, and other arrangements.

How Often Can Prepaid Electricity Payments be Made?

A prepaid pay as you go electric company in Texas must allow you to make payment weekly. So if you want to prepay for your electric service every week they cannot decline your payment. The prepaid electric company must let you know atleast every two weeks what your estimated current balance is, the time and date, and estimated number of days of remaining electric service on your account.

A prepaid electric company must respond to your request to what your remaining prepaid balance is by atleast the following day prior to 5 p.m.

How To Qualify For An Electric Rate Discount?

If you qualify for an electric rate discount from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Texas Lite Up program then the prepaid electric provider must assist with working with these agencies. The pay as you go electric company must assist with provisioning energy assistance that comes from DHHS or Texas Lite Up.

It should be noted that a prepaid electricity company is not responsible for making sure your information is accurate with the DHHS. If there is even a difference with a phone number or date of birth you will be declined by Texas Lite Up. Unfortunately Texas Lite Up does not communicate this to the electric company so you will want to call and find out from both the provider and Texas Lite Up what information they have on file for you is. Everything must match or your assistance will be declined.

If you qualify for food stamps or other government assistance you will automatically qualify for energy assistance provided your information is the same at both places. Be sure to check!

Why Not Use a Traditional Electricity Company in Texas?

Considering that prepaid electricity companies in Texas charge the highest energy prices among all providers why not pay a deposit and save several hundred dollars? If you are considering a pay as you go Texas electric company you are likely a low-income electric service customer. The department of health and human service and Lite-Up Texas already have a rate assistance program for you. Texas electric companies are required to work with DHHS low income residents in working out arrangements to lower deposit amounts as well as your per kWh electric rate. Prepaid electric companies will end up costing you a fortune but a traditional electric company will give you a cheap price for energy and you can avoid the deposit. Try some of these traditional electricity companies in Texas first before going with a pay as you go energy company. You can try Champion Energy, Bounce Energy, Ambit Energy, TXU Energy, Startex Power, Green Mountain Energy, Reliant Energy, and the list goes on. Some will be easier to work with than others but ultimately your price per kWh and customer experience will be better served with one of these electric companies than by using a pay as you go provider.

Required Notifications To Help Avoid Being Disconnected

At the time you enroll with a prepaid electricity company you should be notified by them about how and when payments should be made. How and when account statements will be made available to you. How is electric service usage estimated. If you will receive a notice to pay for more service prior to being disconnected. When will these statements be delivered and how long after delivery do you have to prepay before disconnection. How and when you will be told of your remaining electric usage balance including time and date, and estimated number of days left.

Understand Your Fixed Electricity Rate

If your pay as you go electric company is offering you a fixed electricity rate they are required to disclose: price per kWh, number of kWh the fixed cost is based on, a statement about whether the price will change and why. Some electricity companies are advertising a fixed price based on teh current market prices but when your electric switch occurs charging you a different price. Be sure to watch out and ask about this practice before choosing a prepaid electric company.

A Facts Label Clearly Identifies What Makes Up Your Electric Rate

An electricity facts label is required by the PUCT to be offered to a pay as you go electricity customer. The facts label is like a food label on a can of food and should spell everything out for you. Some providers however will quote one price on the Facts Label and charge you something different. They get away with this practice because they say the price on the Electricity Facts Label was based on that date and not the date of the electric switch. Be sure to ask about this before choosing an energy company.

How Long Do I have To Change My Mind?

You have 3 days to change your mind about signing up with your prepaid electric company. The 3 days starts when your electric service is officially switched and turned on and not when they receive the contract from you.

Is The Advertised Electric Rate What Your Are Paying Now?

A prepaid electric company cannot charge more per kWh than what the provider of last resort is charging. You will have to contact the PUCT to see what the POLR rate currently is.

Somewhere on the electricity bill you should see something that says, “the average price you paid for electric service is”. This will be the electric rate per kWh you are paying. Make sure this rate matches what they advertised to you.

Pay As You Go Electricity Usage Estimates

The prepaid electricity provider should use historical electricity usage data that you have accumulated to revise their usage estimates. If your prepaid electricity company is using estimated usage from the previous tenant even though they have several months of your usage data they could be overcharging you by a lot.

Prepaid Electricity Bill Due Dates

A payment due date should be listed on the electric bill you receive from your pay as you go electric company. Be sure to look out for this.

If the Texas prepaid electric company has a 24 x 7 call center or payment center receive payments than they can make the bill due no later than 5 days after you receive it. Make sure you send in payment or you could risk a disconnection. I would try making payment late in the night to test whether or not they have a 24×7 payment center as this 5 day due date can be a little difficult especially if there are times when you cannot pay.

If the pay as you go electricity provider does not have a 24 x 7 payment center than the due date cannot be less than 10 days after the customer receives the bill.

If your bill is sent by email then according to the PUCT you received it the day the electric provider emailed it to you.

When Is A Prepaid Electric Bill Considered Late?

Your electricity service payment is considered late if it is not received before close of business on the payments due date. During holidays the electric bill due date is extended to the next business day after the holiday.

Prepaid Electricity Facts Label

Your electricity facts label should indicate the number of days a payment of $20, $50, $100, and $200 can be expected to last at monthly usahe levels of 500 kWh, 1,000 kWh, and 2,000 kWh.

The Proper Disconnection Notice You May Receive From A Prepaid Company

The disconnection notice can be sent along with your electric bill or request for a deposit. “Disconnection Notice” should be prominently displayed on the notice. The disconnection date cannot be a holiday, weekend day, or day that the REP is not available to take payment. The disconnection cannot occur less than 5 days after the notice is issued if they have a 24×7 payment center. If the prepaid electric company is not open all hours to take payments then you have a full7 days to make your late payment before being disconnected.

Being Underbilled For Several Months

If you were underbilled for several months and then all of a sudden you receive a gigantic electric bill you have some options. The PUCT allows for you to be put on a deferred billing arrangement with your pay as you go electric supplier. You can pay in $50 installments until you have paid back the underbilled amount without being disconnected for non-payment.

Electric Service For Critical Care Customers

If you have a serious illness and tell the electric provider that if they were to disconnect you it could cause serious harm to yourself and even death than they must send you a waiver. The waiver basically states that you agree to be disconnected if you make a late payment. If you choose not to sign this waiver the REP must switch you to another product or electric provider that avoids a disconnection in electric service.

Texas Electric Meter Malfunctions and Incorrect Billing

This article is written for the unlucky electric service customer that gets hit with an inaccurate electric bill because the electricity meter was malfunctioning and the meter reader had to estimate electric usage based on historical averages from the previous year. Sometimes an electric meter could be malfunctioning and show lower usage amounts than what the electric service customer is actually using. Months could go by before the meter reader realizes that the electric meter was showing a smaller amount of usage than what the consumer was using. When this happens the electric company can true up these charges and bill the customer based on a previous years usage amount. This means that you could have been charged $30 a month for several months but then the electric company sees the mistake and sends you a bill for $1000 to recover lost income from the meter malfunction. The dollar amount would be based on what you used historically the previous year and not actual usage. This historical usage estimate rule means that even if you were not staying at the home or business during the time your meter was malfunctioning you will still be charged based on last years historical usage averages.

You would be surprised but many people in this situation claim they were not in the house at the time in order to attempt to not have to pay a higher price when the utility figures out their mistake. I would not be shocked to get some comments below from people claiming this has happened to them and they were not present at the home and therefore should not have to pay based on last year’s usage. The utility will usually work out some type of payment plan so you can pay out the difference over time but you are unlikely to win the argument that you were visiting your sick grandmother during the time your usage was low when it was verified to be a meter malfunction.

Who is Responsible for Meter Malfunctions and Charges?

Ultimately the company responsible for the electric meter malfunctioning is the Electric Utility company also known as the TDSP company or the pole and wires company. In the Houston area the electric utility is Centerpoint Energy. In the Dallas area the pole and wires utility is Oncor Electric Delivery. These companies handle fixing the poles and wires, meters, and they own all the electric infrastructure that delivers the electricity to your home or business. Before you get all out of shape and frustrated with your retail electric provider like, Reliant Energy, TXU, Stream, Ambit, Liberty, Spark, Champion, or any of the 30 retail electric companies servicing Texas you should get your facts straight. The retail electric provider only has a few responsibilities. They buy commodities, hedge energy, and sell you that electric service. Another job the retail electric provider does is to bill you based on usage data they receive from utilities like Oncor or Centerpoint Energy. You see the retail electric provider is not in control of reading the usage data or that the usage is accurate. The utility is the responsible party that all complaints and issues regarding accurate meter reading and usage data should go to.

If your TDSP meter reading company has misread your meter data or the meter has malfunctioned and you feel that something should be done about it we recommend you contact that TDSP company and express your complaint and issue. These companies will send someone on site to investigate the matter. Someone will also follow up to explain how you will be billed or compensated for the inaccurate billing.

To contact Oncor: Oncor Electric Delivery
To contact Centerpoint: Centerpoint Energy

In Some Cases the Retail Electric Provider May Have Advertised a Rate Without the TDSP Charges Included

Sometimes the meter data is being read correctly but you still notice additional charges averaging 3 – 4 cents per kWh on top of the initial advertised retail electric rate you were quoted by a Texas electricity company. When this happens you are probably dealing with only a handful of electric companies that practice this form of electric rate advertising. Most Texas electricity companies will bundle the TDSP charges into the residential electric rate so you have a total all-in bundled rate to look at. This bundled rate allows the Texas consumer to be completely informed of what the total rate will look like with all charges included. This total bundled rate will usually be in the electricity facts label.

Some Texas electric companies we know who advertise residential electric rates without including the TDSP charges in the bundled rate are listed below:

Liberty Power

These companies have received several consumer complaints from their customers on our site claiming that they thought they had signed up on a bundled rate but found additional charges they were not aware of when receiving their first months bill. Since most Texas electric providers include all charges in a bundled format in their advertised rate on their site or other advertisement it has confused many consumers who than sign up with companies like Liberty Power who do not include the pole and wires charges in their advertised energy price.

Comparing Electric Rates With All TDSP Charges Bundled into Rate

If you would like to compare Texas electricity rates for residential homes and apartments that have all TDSP charges bundled into the rate then we recommend using the chart below. The comparison chart has several reputable electric companies in Texas without a history of hiding certain fees and charges from their customers. You can compare electricity prices with confidence when picking a provider from the chart below.

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