Electric retailer Reliant says it's launched an unprecedented program in Texas that allows customers to purchase their power at a flat monthly fee.
The Houston-based company says the plan makes budgeting easier for residential customers. It's based on a computer model that considers a customer's prior consumption to predict how much electricity that customer will use in the future.
Customers pay the flat fee irrespective of how much power they consume. But if electricity use rises, then Reliant considers that increase when establishing the fee for another 12-month period.
"For customers who really don't have a lot of time or energy or interest in their electricity bill, this plan gives them a way to know what's going to happen," said Elizabeth Killinger, senior vice president and retail regional president for Texas at NRG, Reliant's parent company.
Reliant introduced the program for limited use in 2012, but the company declines to say how many have enrolled.
Critics tell the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1oB2JyR ) the plan encourages unrestrained power use at a time when energy conservation is needed.
"We should be conserving energy, and definitely, when people see the difference in an electricity bill, a water bill or a trash bill, it makes them more conscious of how they're using a resource," said Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment. "It seems to be a real step backwards. I'm very disappointed that Reliant is offering this."
Reliant executives counter that the program isn't meant to encourage unrestrained energy use and, instead, they emphasize the benefits of offering a consistent bill.
The plan likely will benefit the consumer in some months and Reliant in others, according to David Power, deputy director of the advocacy group Public Citizen. But Reliant likely expects that in the end it will come out ahead, he said.