5 questions you should be asking your current energy provider

Asking your energy provider the right questions will help you save

Shopping for an energy plan can be an overwhelming experience, especially in Texas, where deregulation of the energy industry means the average consumer has around 2,000 energy plans to choose from, according to Powertochoose.com. Unfortunately, some of those plans are downright duds, full of hidden fees and “green” energy that isn’t really green at all. So how can well-meaning consumers make sure they aren’t getting swindled by energy companies? By staying informed. Below are five questions to ask your energy provider to ensure you’re getting what you pay for.

1. Can I see how much energy I use in real-time?

With all these misleading claims, most people face sticker shock when they get their first energy bill. Many of the thousands of plans available on Powertochoose.com are pretty vague about how much they actually charge each month. Energy companies tier their rates based on how many kilowatt hours (kWh) consumers use.

The problem is, most consumers have no clue how many hours they’re using, leaving a lot of guesswork around the exact rate they’re paying. Usage can also change dramatically from season to season or during severe weather, like a drought or heat wave. By knowing how much energy you are actually using daily, you may be able to change your habits and better manage your energy spending. It’s worth it to ask your energy provider about usage before the bill comes at the end of the month.

2. Why is my bill so much higher than the rate you advertised?

Typically, energy plans only reward one specific band of usage. That is, if you fall above a certain usage amount and below another amount, you’ll be rewarded with that killer rate you saw advertised. But if your usage falls outside that very specific amount—and how many customers are tracking their monthly usage close enough to know that?—then your rates skyrocket. Not only is this sneaky on the part of the provider, but it’s highly confusing for the customer, who is forced to track their energy usage extremely closely if they want to reap the benefits of that low rate.

Another reason your bill might seem odd is because you’ve been slapped with an early termination fee. Maybe you had no idea that you were locked into a contract already, or unaware of your existing contract’s expiration date. You sign up for a new contract, and bam—you’re hit with a fee that makes your bill balloon. The average early termination fee in Texas is $158.

3.  What are all these extra fees?

Think you’ve found the perfect plan? Don’t sign on the dotted line before you’ve read the fine print. Many energy companies tack on hidden fees for things like calls to customer service or mailing out disconnection notices. Our research has found that out of those 2,000 plans on Powertochoose.com:

  • 87% have an early termination fee
  • 61% have a disconnection notice fee
  • 52% have a minimum usage fee
  • 49% have a base charge fee
  • 41% have a customer care call fee
  • 39% have a document request fee

These little fees are essentially a substitute for providing good customer service, and though they’re small, they can add up to much higher rates than those listed. Review your bill carefully, or better yet, take advantage of that customer service fee, to make sure you’re not paying a premium for add-ons that amount to very little.

4. Where is my “green” energy coming from?

Many companies claim to be using 100% “green” energy, but that isn’t always the case. In truth, most green energy plans use only the state-required 12.1% renewable energy. They reach this level by purchasing renewable energy credits (RECs), which each represent 1 mWh of electricity generated from solar, wind, or another renewable energy source. Purchasing RECs helps compensate for energy created by gas, oil, and coal by funding not only production of solar and wind energy, but also research for the future production of renewable energy.

Sounds great, right? The only problem is that to get beyond that 12.1% level, many energy plans purchase even more RECs than required by the state. Energy companies buy these “Voluntary RECs” dirt cheap, and then use misleading wording to trick consumers into paying a premium for energy that’s less green than advertised. Some energy companies will sell a plan as “100% Wind Powered” when, in reality, it just purchased cheap wind credits for around $0.15 each and charged the consumer up to 20% more per year. Labeling an energy plan as “green” is a sneaky way to charge extra for credits that cost the energy company a couple of dollars a year to provide.

5. Can you tell me how much green energy is on the grid?

Most people check the weather when choosing clothes for the day. Wouldn’t it be nice to check the amount of renewable energy on the grid before making choices about your energy consumption? An energy provider that is truly invested in providing green energy not only provides consumers with locally sourced, current RECs, but also empowers consumers to plan their energy use around times of day when renewable energy is abundant. If your energy provider doesn’t have a plan in place to alert you when the grid is “high” on solar or wind-generated energy, it might be time to start shopping around for a new provider.Luckily, that provider is out there today.

Griddy, the smart energy company, provides its members with an app that alerts them every time the energy in the grid is green. Customers can also check the app at any time to see what rate they’re paying at that moment—and there are no hidden fees. Getting the best energy plan for your money can be tricky, but don’t let a few bad apples keep you from making the smartest choice for both your wallet and the planet. Just come prepared with these questions to be sure your plan is as honest as it is green. Go Griddy

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