Are your Texas electricity bills too high? Here’s a solution…

The battle cry for residents in a seniors community in Fort Worth, Texas goes like this:

“I’m gettin’ beat ’cause I want to use some heat!”

Residents tried to figure out why their electric bills have doubled in the past few months.

Last week, they called a meeting and invited me. They showed me their bills, almost all of them from TXU Energy. They had a lot of theories about what went wrong — meters not read properly, for example.

After I bit, as I first reported in the Jan. 31, 2010 Dave Lieber column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, I gave them my initial expert opinion.

It was bitterly cold in late December. Of course bills go up.

But then I dug deeper into their cases, looking at their bills and asking each resident two crucial questions:

What kilowatt-per-hour rate do you pay?

When does your contract expire?

Almost nobody knew the answers. Their problem, it seems, is much worse than high winter bills. Most likely, these residents are paying more than necessary because they haven’t shopped around for electricity. Unfortunately, many Texans still don’t know how to do that.

We worked on their cases, and in the end, I hope I solved their problem. Best of all, my solution may work for you, too. But before we get to that, let’s listen to a few of the residents:

Martha Beaman: “My bill was $28 in November. Then, in December, it was $256. And for January, it was $233. I am never at home. I work. This is stressful because my wages haven’t gone up as the bill goes up. I have to calculate every penny I earn because my job has been cut back on hours this month. I’m struggling.”

Shirley Stockton: “I knew the cold weather was coming and cranked my heater down to 65. I turned my water heater off through the cold snap, and the bill still went from $36 to $96. I only turn my water heater on every few days when I need it.” (When she called to tell a TXU rep that, she says the rep told her that hot water “is a privilege.”)

Debbie Wilson: Her bill jumped from $78 to $176 to $272: “After I got the high bill for December, I cut my thermostat to 67. I use oxygen at night, so I have to have enough electricity to pay for that. I’d rather go cold than not have my air at night.”

Anita Mayfield: Her bill went from $64 to $149. “I’m getting tired of cooking on a microwave. I wear sweats all the time. I have the thermostat turned down to 60 degrees. I wash in cold water. When you live on a fixed income, you can’t afford this. You don’t know where you are going to pay these extras from.”

Charlie Berry: His bill went from $40 to $176 to $227. “At this rate, by the time I get the next bill, I’m going to have to apply for assistance from the U.S. government just to pay my electric bill.”

Steve Kerr: “During the cold snap I was out of town for three weeks with the heating system turned off.” His bill went from $90 to $146 to $236. He is skeptical about whether the meter was read. “Whether or not it was read — that’s the $64,000 question,” he says.

Oncor spokeswoman Carol Peters said later that the bills are higher because this has been the second-coldest winter in the past two decades. “There’s a 30 percent increase in the heating requirements over last year,” she said. Oncor delivers the electricity through the lines and hires the meter readers. TXU is the residents’ retail provider by their choice.

TXU spokeswoman Sophia Stoller looked at 13 cases of Providence Village residents provided by The Watchdog. All but one seemed accurate, she said. In the questionable case, the initial bill looked too low.

TXU offers several ways for customers to get help with their bills, including a 10 percent discount as part of the Low Income Discount Plan. But you have to ask. TXU Energy Aid helps customers who say they have a hardship, such as loss of job or illness.

When I looked at the residents’ bills, I found that many are paying as much as 13, 14 or 15 cents per kilowatt-hour.

However, last week, the state-run PowertoChoose.org Web site showed the lowest prices I’ve seen — 8.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

So the quickest way to lower your electric bill is not to turn down a thermostat or turn off a water heater but to learn when your contract expires and shop for a better deal. If there’s a cancellation fee, it will be more than covered in a few months by cutting a 15-cent rate almost in half.

As proof, one Providence Village resident said she paid $250 to cancel her contract before it expired so she could switch to Green Mountain Energy. Her neighbors sighed when Helen Nash reported that her recent bill was only $93.

If you’re not sure about the best way to shop around, I’ve got you covered. I’ve distributed tens of thousands of free copies of my guide showing how to get the best buy in Texas electricity. You can find it by clicking here on “Dave Lieber Guide to Saving on Your Electricity Bill.”

You can also e-mail me at watchdog@star-telegram.com or request a copy at Dave Lieber, Star-Telegram, P.O. Box 1870, Fort Worth, TX 76101.


What to do If you need help on your electric bill, call 211.


Customers who receive food stamps or Medicaid may qualify for the Lite Up Texas discount or other assistance.

Ask your electric company whether it offers assistance. Also ask to pay a big bill over several months, allowed under law.

On Feb. 3, 2010, Tarrant County Human Services will take applications from those who are retired or on disability and receive no other income. Call 817-531-5620 on Wednesday and ask for an appointment. Only 500 appointments will be scheduled.

Source: Tarrant County Human Services

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Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new 2010 edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is out. Revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

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Comments

  1. Archie Chamness says:

    Dave,

    I to have received very large utility bills over the last few months and just feel so helpless in getting this resolved. While I did expect my utility bill to jump a little due to the cold weather I never dreamed it would be this much. My situation is similar to some of these people in the article. I am a customer of Stream Energy and am locked into a 10.6 per kwh rate thank goodness so I know my problem is not rate related. My problem is usage. over the last 6 months since I purchased my home I have averaged under 1000 kw a month but when I received my January bill for the month of December usage is more than tripled up to 3166 kw used during the month and cost me $359. I understand that there was a large snow storm and very cold temperatures during the end of that month however I was out of town from 12-23-09 until 12-31-09 and had everything turned off in my house except my heater which I left on 60 degrees. I am a single man living by myself and before all of my problems kept my thermostat set on 68-70 degrees. I just feel like 3166 kw is an extremely large amount for me to use especially when I am doing nothing different in my life. Since receiving this large electric bill I have been keeping up with my meter reading on almost a daily basis and been taking steps such as unplugging everything in my house not being used and leaving my thermostat on 60-62. While doing this helped a little I am still using between 50-100 kw every day and just received my next bill for usage for the month of January. I now used 2165 kw for a $242 electric bill. The meter reads what is being billed for usage but I just do not believe I am using that much electricty. I called Stream Energy and they told me that there was nothing that they could do because they are billing me for the usage that they are told to bill me and to call Oncor. I then called Oncor and have scheduled for them to come out and test my meter. The problem is that they said that it usually takes up to 10 days for them to come out, but due to a large amount of complaints they were running behind and it might take 30 days for them to come out to my house to test my meter. By then I am going to have another $200-$300 electric bill and I just cannot afford that every month in this bad economy. I also find it interesting that if you do a google search on this issue you can find the same complaints that I have made as well as the ones you reported, in other parts of the state such as a group in Killeen (http://www.kdhnews.com/news/story.aspx?s=38999). Have you heard of any resolution yet to these other peopels isssues or have any other suggestions for other options for a course of action that I should take? Thanks for your time in reading my issue.

    Archie Chamness

  2. Let me recommend this Web site to you as a potential solution to your problem:

    http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/graphics/0309/meter/

  3. A lot of people mentioned powertochoose, but there is so many hidden fees from different companies they do not list on the website. You really cannot base everything on the $/kw. Some companies advertised 8.9cents per kw, but its based on 2000kw usage and with $10.00~20.00 monthly charges.

    I am a licensed energy consultant and will offer free consultant on how to save on your electric bill. I have averaged saved people 200~300 a year.
    I will shop for the best deal for you.

    The transfer is very easy, we will take care of everything from you.
    The same company will do the repair and service as well.
    Nothing changes except a lower bill.
    That is a fact.

    yourenergyconsultant@gmail.com

  4. You also have to look into the TDSP charges. Most of the time, <A HREF="http://www.chooseenergy.com">Texas Electric Companies</A> ignore the computation for this and you end up getting charged more for their negligence.

  5. Great point.

  6. Excellent point. The bills and plans are entirely too complicated. I'm glad you shared your contact information.

  7. Thanks for your appreciable points. Very well mentioned. Thanks for your insigth

  8. yeah, this is very informative and useful.
    keep up great writing.

  9. I watched the video…these people have the same issue I have but what I don't understand is how they are laughing. This matter is not funny at all. It is taking two pay periods for me to pay my light bill. Laugh…I want to cry.

  10. Arris, I guess they are laughing in my video because we turned lemons into lemonade and had fun as we battled the electric company together. Life is so sad that even when bad things happen, we can turn it around and find the funny.

  11. Thank you!

  12. I want to tell you that I know for a FACT that the Oncor meter readers are NOT reading the meters! I have caught them on SEVERAL occasions just passing peoples meters up! They would have had to go to the side of their houses to read those meters.. Instead, they just kept on walking! I tried to warn my neighbors but they do not speak English nor I Spanish. There was no way for me to inform them.

    I have seen them skip by my house so many times. Several times I have had to go outside and ask them what my reading was. They couldn't tell me. They HAD to go back to my meter and put that information in. You know what? My bill went down almost $300 that next month.

    Unfortunately, we cannot always be out there to make sure that they are doing their jobs. It's not the electric company's fault! It's the meter readers being lazy!

    I am on social security disability and have been since around 2005. My electric bill makes or breaks me each month. This month it was over $400. Me and my children all but froze to death to keep the reading down. It went from over $400 in January to just under $200 in February then back up to over $400 in March. How is that even possible????!!!! The $200 or under should have been more like it!

    TXU has all but called me a liar! I asked for Oncor to come out and check my meter… I waited in my room for 5 days and NEVER saw Oncor at my window checking my meter! They of course said that they came and checked it. LIARS! I made sure to be in my room at my window ALL day for 5 days and NO ONE came!

    There should be laws to protect us! They should make sure that their employees are doing their jobs!!!! We are the ones who are suffering! It's just not fair how they can get away with this!

  13. Thanks Tracy. I appreciate this post!

  14. This Story makes me angry because, I remember as a child when water and electricity billy used to stree my mother so much. SHe was a single woman and was working hard to pay for our house and school. Whatever we did to help make the electricity bills less just seemed like it was not working. My mom used to be in and out of hospitals due to stress…

    I remember in my science class when we learned about solar energy. I understood the concept and I thought we should try it at home. We found out that we were not allowed to do that. The law had to be passed for us to install Solar panels. Years later , the laws changed and the installation was just too expensive. I'm happy to say now , we use solar power and we didn't have to pay a lot. My teacher actually helped us Install it. It was way cheaper to do it our selves.

    Okay, let me start by explaining the term. Solar energy is energy that is produced by the sun. We can use this free energy as electricity. You might have seen houses with solar panels on top. You might have seen a lot discussions lately about saving the planet or the environment. This is one of the solutions to solving these issues.

    Firstly, it saves a lot of hard earned money. I mean, I remember as a kid when our electricity would be cut off because my mother couldn't afford to pay the bill. This still happens to a lot of people.

    The reason why solar power systems are avoided by home owners, is because they are known to be very expensive to install. There are really affordable ways to install this system. There are places where you can buy the parts and install them yourself. That's one way to save money.

    Let's harness the power of the sun and wind. You can slash your power bill greatly or even eliminate it, and at the same time, help save the invironment. Another way to make money from this is to get a lot of information on solar power systems and maybe start your own business installing these to your neighborhood.

    http://hubpages.com/hub/why_choose_sorlar_energy

  15. I was fed up with paying TXU 14 cents per kwh. They had me locked in for 24 months to prevent my rate from going up. What a crock! I switched to Ambit Energy and immediately realized some pretty significant savings at 8.9 cents per kwh. I was so impressed with this company, that after a year, I joined them as a Marketing Consultant. Now, I help people save money by offering them great rates on energy.

    It's your money folks. You can choose to give a bunch of it to TXU or you can keep it and go on a vacation you've always wanted, pay off other bills, or save it for a rainy day.

    I'd be glad to have you as a customer. We offer low rates, free travel, and an iron-clad guarantee that your power won't go off while it's being switched. If it does go off, Ambit will pay for your first month of electricity.

    Visit my site below and see how much you can save. I offer very competitive rates for residential and commercial customers. There's no fee to switch to Ambit and it takes a couple of minutes.

    Best of all, I can help you get your electricity for 0.0 cents per kwh. Yes, that's free energy. Click below to find out more.

  16. I can get you 8.8 cents right now with Ambit Energy for three months! My personal cell number is 1-903-360-8818, and I can help you get free electricity if you refer fifteen others : )

  17. The easiest way to make your home more energy efficient is to seal any air leaks, and one that is often overlooked is the bathroom ventilation fan and exhaust vent. The back-draft flap these units come with do a very poor job of stopping leaks. To address this issue, I use a replacement insert fan from the Larson Fan Company (online). Their fans has a true damper built in, that does a great job in keeping warm air in during the winter and hot, humid air out in the summer. This product has reduced my annual energy bills by over ten percent. It saves the most when air conditioning is being used.