• Presenting the Past: Ups and Downs of Hollywood Prequels

    Some of the most anticipated films of any year aren't movie sequels but their prequels, like this year's Monsters University. After all, haven't you wondered why Monstropolis residents are scared of children or how our favorite monsters got to be scarers? Just like sequels, some of these movies ... Continue Reading »

The Natural Gas Rush

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These days, everyone seems to have something to say about natural gas. The truth is, America is in the midst of a gas rush. Ever since companies found a way to efficiently extract gas from rock formations made of shale, a new age of research, discovery and prosperity has graced the energy industry. Across Texas and other states with ample shale deposits, the discussion is particularly lively. If you haven’t kept up with it, here’s what you need to know about natural gas:

It’s pretty popular around the home. Natural gas has a bunch of residential uses. Many people prefer a stovetop heated by natural gas rather than electric burners since gas offers better temperature control and discounted cooking costs. Additionally, natural gas is a common way for people to heat their houses. The American Gas Association estimates 62 million U.S. homes use natural gas for heating.

It’s cleaner-burning and cheaper than other fossil fuels. Compared to other fossil fuels, specifically oil and coal, natural gas is the cleanest. While the primary emission of natural gas is carbon dioxide, fuels such as oil and coal release it in significantly higher amounts. Oil and coal also emit much higher levels of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. All of these chemicals can have a harmful effect on our environment, which is why it’s important to use resources such as natural gas that release them in smaller quantities.

It’s a good stopgap. Ideally, our society would be powered through 100% renewable resources like wind power and solar power. We’ve made some really big strides in green energy over the past few years, but the fact remains that we’re not quite there yet. In the meantime, natural gas is a step in a cleaner direction. It’s plentiful across the United States and a much cleaner option than the fuels we’ve come to rely on. People are taking note, too. The automotive industry, for example, now offers a variety of cars that run on natural gas.

Until the day renewable energy is prevalent and widespread enough to power the globe, natural gas is a good choice.

The Wide Variety of Texas Power Generators

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In a state as large as Texas, it’s understandable that there are a large number of power generation companies, and it should come as no surprise that the companies harness a variety of energy resources. During the past decade in particular, national focus has turned more and more to the use of alternative energy sources, and despite Texas’ history as an oil state, many new energy technologies are also perfect for implementation in Texas.

Let’s take a look at the Texas power industry to get a feel for how much energy plays a role in the state’s economy and what we can expect to see in the near future.

An oil baron’s dream

The year 1900 ushered in the beginning of the first Texas oil boom, which according to most accounts lasted for the better part of the first half of the 20th century, coming to a close around 1940. This boom in the oil industry is one of the primary factors that made Texas what it is today. Oil wells were drilled all over the state and the prevalence of the fuel led to Houston’s outskirts becoming the largest site of oil refineries and processing centers in the world.

Since that time, Texas has always been known as an oil state. There have been countless popular culture references, and rightfully so. As a direct result of oil discovery and production, Texas is the economic power house that it is today, with several of the largest cities in the nation and the second largest state population in the country.

The western winds

More recently, wind energy has begun to take off in Texas. Particularly in the western part of the state, numerous wind farms are generating a significant amount of electricity for the state. Human beings have harnessed the wind for centuries to do our work for us, and prior to the widespread development of the nation’s power grid, many of the most successful rural farms utilized wind turbines to generate a modest amount of electricity.

As time has gone on and more concern has developed over the effect of burning fossil fuels on the atmosphere, there has been an increasing interest in finding less impactful ways to produce electricity. As a result, wind turbine technology has been reborn, in the form of the now easily recognizable white monoliths several hundred feet tall. One of the primary reasons wind energy is becoming so successful today is the growing affordability of the technology. As manufacturing costs fall and demand for electricity continues to grow, the industry is in a boom of its own. As of 2012, Texas produced the most wind power of any state in the country, and with the extension of tax cuts as part of the fiscal cliff legislation in early 2013 the trend is likely to continue.

Solar energy

As you’re already aware, much of Texas is wide-open grassland…otherwise known as ideal conditions for solar array installations. Solar panels do best when they’re exposed to direct sunlight for nearly the entire day. Home installations can be fairly productive with only about 8 hours of direct sunlight, but it’s a simple equation: The more sunlight an array is exposed to, the more energy it can produce. The Texas countryside is nearly a perfect location for solar arrays, and as a result they too are popping up around the Texas landscape. In fact, solar panels are even more affordable today than wind turbines are, and they present a reasonable green energy solution to individual residents looking to reduce their dependence on the increasingly unreliable electricity grid.

Choosing an alternative energy provider

As a result of electricity deregulation in Texas, residents and business owners can choose to purchase their electricity supply from any retailer they choose, provided the retailer is licensed in their service area. For some electric providers in Texas, embracing and supporting renewable energy technologies is a top priority. Retail electricity providers have the option to purchase their electricity supply from any generation company they prefer, meaning if a retailer chooses to only buy electricity from green energy generators, it can do so.

These green-centric retailers offer consumers an opportunity to support renewable energy technology in nearly as direct a manner as you can get. The only approach to supporting green energy that’s arguably more impactful is to actually install infrastructure on your property.

Home Saver Series: Outdoors

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You know all about saving energy around the house. You’ve probably even read about saving energy in the workplace, too. Believe it or not, there are ways to save when you’re not cooped up inside. You’d be surprised how much energy you can save by focusing on your outdoor practices, as well. There’s always an opportunity to save some energy by being more aware in the yard, on the deck, in the pool or anywhere else on your property.

In the warmer months, it’s always fun to float the idea of having a cookout on the lawn with friends, neighbors or family. Here at TexasElectricityProviders.com, we encourage it! Get out there, because the more often you cook inside the easier it is for your house to heat up. The easier it is for your house to heat up, the harder your AC has to work. The harder your AC has to work, the more you pay on your electric bill. So save yourself the trouble; fire up the grill and break out the burgers. An outdoor barbecue will help you avoid the discomfort and displeasure of a steamy house and substantial energy bill.

Whether you’re walking the dog or taking out the garbage, you need a way to keep your house visible at night. These days, two energy-efficient options exist for homeowners seeking out a low-cost way to keep their property lit up. The first is motion sensor lighting, which allows you to keep your lights off until the moment something’s detected outside. The second is solar powered lighting, which oftentimes uses no electricity at all. Solar powered lighting is great for porches and walkways that only need to be illuminated when the sun goes down.

If you have a pool, that’s another area where it’s easy to expend more electricity than you’d like. Make sure you have a tripper in place that can turn the pump system on or off according to your schedule. Additionally, install LED pool lights instead of the conventional incandescent or halogen pool lights that most people have. LED pool lights can last much longer and use far fewer watts to create the same output.

By taking these tips and putting them into practice, you can start conserving in ways you might not have considered before. In combination with the other tips from our Home Saver Series, your outdoor habits could play a big role in taking real chunks out of your energy bill.

Living in the Oncor Service Area

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Depending on where you call home in Texas, you might reside or do business within the Oncor service area. Oncor delivers electricity to more than 10 million customers in Texas, ensuring safe and reliable service across its territory. Oncor is the distribution arm of Energy Future Holdings, a company that can trace its history in Texas to 1882.

Over the years many things have changed in the Texas electricity industry, one of the most significant changes being the market’s deregulation in 2002. It was then that Oncor as it is known today was born, a dedicated transmission and distribution company. Oncor owns the electricity infrastructure in its service territory. It is in charge of maintaining that network both to provide service to residents and business owners and to ensure the safety of the public.

How do I know if I’m in an Oncor area?

Determining whether you receive Oncor electric services is as simple as looking at a map. Oncor provides transmission and distribution services in two large regions of Texas covering the Dallas/Fort Worth area and several other large communities including Midland and Odessa. Another easy way to determine if you live in an Oncor area is to look at your electricity bill. Oncor customers receive a bill for their electricity service from Oncor that includes the charges for the energy supply from their chosen retailer and service charges directly from Oncor.

Embracing the benefits of deregulation

Living in the Oncor service territory means you have the opportunity to choose among many electric companies competing for your business. Deregulation was designed to encourage competition between electricity retailers in order to provide consumers with the best service experience possible. This was accomplished by dividing the electricity industry into three parts, each with its own responsibilities when it comes to getting electricity to those who use it.

Power generation companies own and operate power plants. Whether these facilities are coal-fired power plants or wind farms, generation companies produce electricity and sell it to retailers. The retailers then sell the electricity to consumers and utility companies deliver the electricity to individual homes and businesses. Oncor is a utility in this model.

In order for a retail electricity provider to be eligible to sell electricity in a utility’s service territory, it must first negotiate a contract with that utility. Once an agreement has been reached, the retailer can begin to seek out customers served by the utility. Retail electricity providers each have their own plans and rates, and it’s the consumer’s responsibility to find the plan that fits their needs best.

For those with service from Oncor electric in Dallas, there are many retailers and plans to choose from. Before making a selection, it’s important to understand what your usage needs are, and examine all your options. Many retailers offer fixed-rate plans, which offer different benefits than plans with variable rates. Unlike variable-rate plan pricing, which is subject to change based on market conditions, fixed-rate plans offer price security. Some retailers offer fixed-rate plans with periods as long as 60 months. If you want to have a predictable bill every month, choosing a fixed-rate plan could be for you.

What to do in the event of a power outage

Living or conducting business in the Oncor service area means you can keep tabs on power outages online through the utility’s website. The page called the storm center offers consumers an interactive map outlining the Oncor service territory and providing up-to-date outage information. The page also offers a portal for customers to report outages online. In addition to summarizing outages on the map, the Oncor storm center also supplies information on when power is expected to be restored, and allows users to see live weather information that could result in further outages.

Most importantly, remember that if you live in the Oncor service area, you need to contact Oncor in the event of an outage. Because Oncor owns and maintains the electricity infrastructure in your area, it is the company to contact about any interruptions in service, not your retail provider. If you have access to the Internet despite not having access to electricity, the storm center map can help you identify if your outage is unique or part of a more widespread issue.

Home Saver Series: Leakage and Insulation

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It’s easy to get caught up in all the new school technology and green gadgetry that’s popped up recently, but you shouldn’t neglect the tried-and-true energy-saving perks of proper insulation. Proper insulation doesn’t sound very exciting. What it is, however, is one of the most accessible, feasible routes for reducing your energy usage – and that’s exciting.

The easiest place to start is right downstairs in the basement, or wherever your water heater is located. Water heating costs are some of the most expensive you’ll find on your utility bill, but there’s a fairly quick fix for homeowners: water heater insulation. An insulating jacket isn’t very expensive (some go as low as $15 or $20), but it’s a high-yield investment. By trapping heat that would otherwise seep through the walls of the water heater, your water heater won’t have to use as much energy, and that’s likely to be reflected on your billing statement.

It’s important to insulate the top of the house, too. Your attic’s thermal insulation can actually have a serious impact on your energy costs. If your attic doesn’t have enough installed, you’ll have a much tougher time regulating your home’s temperature. Additionally, you’ll put a strain on your heating and cooling systems, making them work harder to compensate. With your temperature control working harder, you’ll be forced to use more electricity. This can all be avoided by checking with the local authorities to make sure you have the right amount of insulation. It can be a dirty job, so you might want to call a professional before laying down the materials.

On the ground floor, it’s important to make sure you’ve insulated all the space around your doors and windows. Any cracks or leakages can result in heat loss during the winter or heat gain during the summer. Just like poor insulation in the attic, this may cause your temperature controls to needlessly expend more energy to keep things regulated. Install weather-stripping around any entryways that don’t seem like they’re sealed tightly enough.

Under the right conditions, your home should be able to keep you nice and comfortable no matter the season. By ensuring an insulated, airtight residence, you’ll keep the temperature right where you want it and keep your energy costs down.

Understanding Your Options with CenterPoint Energy

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If you live in the Houston area, chances are you fall within the CenterPoint Energy service territory. In fact, the company can trace its roots back to 1866 as the Houston Gas Light Company, though CenterPoint Energy Inc. has only carried its current name since 2002. At that time Reliant Energy Inc. was broken up into several different companies as the Texas electricity market was deregulated. The transmission and distribution arm of the company became CenterPoint Energy Inc., headquartered in Houston and continuing to serve its residents, albeit in a new capacity.

Today, being a CenterPoint electric customer is a bit of a misnomer. CenterPoint Energy does not sell electricity to customers in its Houston service area. Instead, it maintains the city’s electricity infrastructure ensuring area residents have reliable access.

CenterPoint and deregulation

If you recently moved to Texas, you might not fully understand how electricity deregulation affects you. The Texas electricity market was deregulated in 2002, resulting in the division of electricity utilities into three new entities. This division of labor was intended to spur more aggressive competition among electricity suppliers in order to benefit consumers. In Texas there are now three levels of electricity production services, each controlled by a different type of company. Generation companies harness electricity and sell it to retail electricity providers. These retailers in turn sell electricity to individuals. Finally, utilities such as CenterPoint deliver the electricity consumers purchase to them.

The main concept to grasp is that as a Texan you have the power to choose among energy providers to secure the best price and plan for your needs. Living in the CenterPoint service territory means you have a few advantages over other consumers, including the TrueCost Electric Portal® designed specifically for CenterPoint customers.

At MyTrueCost.com, residential and commercial customers of CenterPoint Energy in Houston can examine plans from different retail electricity providers certified to operate in the CenterPoint service territory. The site makes it easy to quickly filter your results by several preferences pertaining to each retailer, including price and how green-friendly each plan is. Unfortunately, there are several retail providers offering plans to CenterPoint customers that are not represented on the site. It’s still important to do some outside shopping to make sure you’re getting the best solution available, but the tool created by CenterPoint is a good starting point.

Things to look for when shopping for an electricity plan

Shopping for electricity isn’t just about finding a low price, though pricing is definitely something to consider. One of the main advantages of choosing a plan from a retailer is having the ability to control the length of your contract. Many retailers offer contracts with fixed rates for up to five years! These long-term contracts give consumers the ability to lock in a rate on their electricity supply to avoid the perils of an oftentimes volatile energy market.

In many cases retailers also offer electricity plans that support green energy initiatives. The details vary, but if you’re interested in supporting the production of electricity through renewable resources, deregulation allows you to choose an electricity plan based on how much of your supply will be generated through alternative methods.

CenterPoint embraces new technologies

Being a CenterPoint Energy customer also means you’ll have access to state-of-the-art energy technologies. In addition to having rolled out smart meters to its entire service area, CenterPoint offers real-time reporting of service outages across its territory with the outage tracker.

Smart meters are great for residents and business owners who want to take more control over their electricity usage. These new devices are able to report usage in 15 minute increments, keeping you abreast of your usage habits during different portions of the day. Smart meters also enable retail electricity providers to institute a new type of billing plan, based on usage during different times of day. Time-of-use plans, as they are called, have unique rates for different times of the day.

The outage tracker offered by CenterPoint is more than just a listing of how many customers are without power. The tracker is an interactive map of the CenterPoint service territory offering updates every 15 minutes of outage information, and providing estimates for when service will be restored. The map even includes up-to-the-minute radar information useful for tracking storm systems as they pass through the area.

For those lucky to live in the CenterPoint service area, all of the services and technologies offered by the company add up to make for one impressive industry player.

Home Saver Series: Lighting

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The Home Saver Series is a new campaign presented by TexasElectricityProviders.com. Each edition will focus on a different aspect of the home and how to tailor it for bigger and better savings on your energy bill. So listen up! It’s your bottom line we’re talking about, after all. Today, we’re rolling out the first chapter and explaining how you can stretch your dollar by making a few simple adjustments to your light fixtures.

In 2007, Congress signed the Energy Independence and Security Act into law. Among other things, the legislation established a nationwide phase out for standard incandescent light bulbs. Between now and 2014, all standard incandescent bulbs are to be replaced with energy-efficient bulbs.

Today, eco-friendly lighting is readily available to any consumer, and its advantages can already be seen on homeowners’ energy bills. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, replacing 15 inefficient incandescent bulbs could save a homeowner around $50 per year. Better yet, a lot of these newer bulbs are longer lasting, too, so you’ll keep saving without replacing your light bulbs as often as you used to.

Compact florescent lamps (or CFLs, for short) are the curly models that people typically envision when they hear about energy-efficient light bulbs. CFLs are great – many people estimate that they can pay for themselves in just nine months – but that’s not the only energy-efficient bulb on the market. For example, light emitting diode (LED) lamps are now available too. LED lights are highly efficient and can last up to 25 times longer than an incandescent bulb.

Whether you switch to CFLs or LEDs, you’re saving a considerable amount of energy. If you’re looking to augment your savings even further, you can have dimmers or timers installed into your light fixtures. Controls like these give you the ability to scale back your lighting when you’re asleep, out of the home or in another room. Another idea is to decorate with light colors and thinner curtains so you can attract and reflect sunlight. That way, you can avoid turning the lights on altogether.

Set an energy-efficient precedent and get smart about your lighting. By switching your light bulbs alone, you’ll cash in on one of the easiest ways to reduce your energy bill.

Preventing Electricity Bill Spikes

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Did your electricity bill shoot up unexpectedly? Are you spending a lot more than you think you should be for your Texas electric supply each month? There could be any number of reasons that your electricity bills are getting out of control, but there’s always time to reel them back in. The first step to reducing your spending on electricity is knowing the source of the problem. Only then can you begin to explore solutions. After all, reducing your electricity bill may be as simple as embracing some energy saving tips.

Effects of the weather

One of the reasons your electricity bill may have gone up unexpectedly could be changes in the weather. When the seasons change it can be tempting to run the heat or air conditioning continuously to maintain a more comfortable temperature, but that decision can be a costly one. Even a few degrees on your thermostat – up or down – can raise your overall heating and cooling expenses dramatically.

When winter hits, it’s important to make sure you’re not wasting energy on heat that escapes your home. Windows are particularly pesky areas for drafts. If you own your home, you may want to invest in new insulated windows to combat the problem. If you’re a renter there are many cheaper, if less effective, steps you can take such as putting a layer of plastic over the interior of your windows to give your home an additional barrier to the cold.

During the summer months you need to be discriminating about when you run the air conditioning. Many times you can turn off the AC at night, particularly in early and late summer, and turn on a fan instead. Fans use much less electricity, and they usually can help keep you cool enough to be comfortable.

Regardless of the season, it’s important not to run your HVAC system when no one is at home. With no one in the house to enjoy the acclimated temperature, you’re spending money for no reason.

Electricity theft

Surprisingly, there are still many cases of electricity theft occurring every year. Though not as prevalent in the United States as it is in other areas of the world, theft of electricity is still a problem in some areas. When electricity theft affects individuals it is because the thief has run an illegal connecting line to the source somewhere after the power meter. This results in the victim’s power bills skyrocketing even if they’re using the same amount of electricity for their own personal needs.

Other methods for stealing electricity affect the profits of the utility companies directly. When thieves tap into a power line before it hits any meters, they are sapping electricity directly from the grid itself.

Either way, stealing electricity is a dangerous proposition – presenting the opportunity for the thief to be severely injured or even killed. If you suspect that you are the victim of electricity theft, report your concerns to your utility and the authorities immediately. Whatever you do, don’t attempt to disconnect (or connect) an illegal line yourself!

Expand Your Green Initiative

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It’s never a bad idea to use less. Less hot water, less AC power, less lighting – they’re all great ways to taper our energy usage.

But that’s only around the house. Most of those things are out of your hands the second you step out your front door. If you’re really concerned about our society’s energy usage as a whole, you need to find ways to conserve both in and out of the home. So where’s a good place to start? I’m glad you asked. It’s not all that hard to do your part when you follow a few simple rules of thumb.

Read green

Whether you’re a full-blown bibliophile or just enjoy some light coffee table literature, do you ever think about how much energy is used to print your reading material? Here’s a hint: It’s a ton. You can avoid contributing to the process by borrowing books from the library or taking advantage of a local book exchange. If you have a laptop or tablet, maybe a digital subscription to your favorite magazine makes more sense. At the very least, try buying used instead of new.

Walk, run, skip, trot, bound – don’t drive

Industrial refineries that turn crude oil into gasoline use a massive amount of energy throughout the course of the conversion process. Not to mention, the carbon emissions from most vehicles are about as harmful to the environment as it gets. Of course, there’re times when driving is a necessity. Depending on where you live, getting to school or work could be impossible without a car. That said, think about all those other times you’ve driven somewhere you could have walked. By cutting out all those unnecessary trips in the car, you’ll quickly reduce your carbon footprint.

Make yourself at home

You already pride yourself on the way you conserve in your own quarters, so why not spread the wealth? Make an effort to instill your energy-saving habits in the workplace. It can have a twofold effect: Not only will you help your company’s eco-friendliness, you’ll also start rubbing off on your co-workers. Once people see you reducing, reusing and recycling around the office, they’re more likely to take those habits home.

Why confine your green outlook to your home? There are dozens of simple ways you can save energy that extend well beyond the walls of your foundation. Your home is a great place to start, but widen the scope and there’s still a lot all of us can do to curb our energy use.

The Introduction of Smart Meters

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You may have heard people talking about the new smart meters that are being rolled out to homes all over Texas, but you may not realize just how valuable these new tech devices are. Smart meters take advantage of the instant communication made possible by the Internet to report your energy use in real time.

Most customers in the Oncor electric and CenterPoint electric service territories have already had smart meters installed on their property. There are plenty of reasons why you should be excited about this new technology!

Smart meters give you more control

Once you have a smart meter installed at your home, you can begin to take advantage of your Texas electricity provider’s new plans centered on a time-of-use billing structure. With these types of plans you’ll pay a different rate for your electricity depending on what time you use it.

In the time-of-use model there are peak times and off-peak times, each corresponding to a different rate for every kilowatt hour of electricity used. Time-of-use billing is also structured around two seasonal periods, with the peak times changing depending on whether it’s winter or summer.

Charging different rates depending on the time you use electricity is made possible by the sophistication of smart meters. These new meters are able to accurately report your energy usage in as few as 15-minute increments! If you plan ahead, having a time-of-use plan can really save you money, but you have to be vigilant about using electricity only when it’s cheapest to do so. Sometimes that simply won’t be possible.

During the summer, peak times typically come during the heat of the day, while during the winter, peak times are spread out to the morning and evening hours. In other words, peak times are when people use the most electricity on average. If you’re willing to reschedule your electricity-heavy tasks such as doing laundry and running the dishwasher to later in the evening, you might be able to tap into some real savings with a smart meter.