Pre-Paid Power Plans Could Ease Strain On Grid

Houston residents now have a new option for purchasing electricity — a pre-paid plan. The city's smart meters and intelligent power grid are opening new ways for people to control their energy use.

CenterPoint Energy completed its smart meter program in Houston in June, which allows the company and consumers to electronically track power use on a daily and even hourly basis.

Taking advantage of that technology, Direct Energy is now offering a pre-paid energy plan, where customers can purchase a certain amount of power ahead of time, much like a pre-paid cell phone.

Steven Murray is president of Direct Energy Residential. He says the benefit of a pre-paid plan is to see how much energy you're using and be able to modify your habits to make that energy go further.

"They now have the ability to actually reduce their consumption. And we've found that they consume almost 20 percent less, 18 to be precise, on their energy bills. That is a significant drop. That's $250 a year for most of these customers."

Murray says the Power-To-Go program is targeted to people on a fixed budget who need more predictability in their energy bills.

It could also help relieve the strain on the Texas power grid if customers are motivated to reduce their energy use.

"Almost all power that's constrained or in short supply is three to six in the afternoon in the summer months. So the issue is how do we get consumers to change their buying and behavior patterns such that we have a more flat profile and we don't have this enormous spike in demand as we go through the summer."

Murray says he believes if Texas doesn't address its grid problems soon, within a year or two we'll have regular rolling brown-outs.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...