Energy Choices

Houston's electricity prices could increase by as much as 50 percent per kilowatt-hour this summer. Energy rates are held down right now by state law, but that law will expire this year and consumers won't have the same pricing protection. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita blew through the Gulf Coast, lawmakers enacted legislation to keep energy prices stable through the winter. That law is expiring the electricity prices are forecast cost nearly 50 percent more than last summer. Houston Mayor Bill White says the city developed a website which will allow consumers to shop for the lowest energy prices.

"We want all Houstonians to be aware of their choices. That's why I asked the electrical providers in this region to come up with their best price for power that we could publicize to consumers. A number of companies responded. Seven companies met the financial criteria that we set so that people could be assured that they have a reliable power company."

Historically there has also been a ceiling on what energy companies can charge for electricity, but that ceiling will be removed at the end of this year. So consumers will not have legal protection on the rates set by energy providers. City Councilwoman Ada Edwards says the ability to comparison shop for energy is essential to Houston's poor and underserved communities.

"This is not a plaything. Summers in Houston are very, very dangerous, especially if you're a senior citizen or you're someone that's disabled at home. So for us to help mitigate the heat, we have to try to help to get our consumers, our constituents more informed about how do they make their choice."

The information is available on a simple website houstonconsumerchoice.com. Residents without internet access or limited literacy can go to any Houston Public Library and get assistance in shopping for electricity. The website only requires a zip code to verify eligibility. Seven power providers are participating and White says he thinks this will result in lower prices and cleaner energy.

"It'll create additional pressure for people to be able to do some comparison shopping. And that will create a competitive pressure on people to come up with realistic prices for their energy, competitive prices for their energy. And that's the way the system is supposed to work."

The providers on the website will offer their best rates with both variable and fixed pricing and green and conventional energy. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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