by Alissa Henry
Gas and electric are two of the biggest expenses for homeowners and renters alike. While it may seem that the providers are chosen for you, in some cases, you may have an option to choose who supplies those utilities. According to OpenSecrets.org, the U.S. electric industry is undergoing a sea change in the way it delivers electricity to millions of households and businesses nationwide. The $220 billion industry, which has been called the last great government-sanctioned monopoly, is slowly but surely being deregulated and opened to competition, giving consumers the power to choose their electricity provider in much the same way they choose telephone carriers.
The Columbus Dispatch reports that Ohio is one of about a dozen states that allow consumers to choose their electricity and natural-gas provider, the result of a push to overhaul the systems in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Now, consumers can choose between the regulated price offered by the utility and a series of unregulated options from alternative suppliers. As a result, you may have noticed flyers in the mail, phone calls from telemarketers or even door-to-door salesmen asking you to switch providers.
To ease some of the confusion, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio created the Energy Choice Ohio website aimed at
educating consumers about their choices.
On this “Apples to Apples” comparison website, the charts compare companies like American Electric Power and Columbia Gas to lesser-known providers like Capital Energy LLC and My Choice Energy. To compare, you only need the information you can easily find on your electric bill. Should you switch?
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio says millions of Ohioans have in the past ten years. They report that some consumers have decided to shop in order to see savings in their monthly energy bills (some have seen as much as a 20 percent reduction in their electric bill!), others value the certainty that comes from a fixed rate plan, and some switch to suppliers that will make a greater investment in renewable products.
If you compare and find reason to switch, Citizens Advice gives some general things to think about beforehand such as: work out how much you currently pay for your gas and electricity check the terms and conditions with your current supplier to see if there is a penalty for cancelling your current contract – this is likely to be the case if you have a fixed term or fixed price contract think about other aspects of service such as how the supplier deals with complaints, any incentives or discounts, or fixed charges PUCO’s website also has a list of questions to ask a provider before you switch.
For some consumers, switching energy or gas suppliers isn’t even an option. Members of co-ops, some renters, customers participating in energy assistance programs such as Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) or customers of municipal power systems are not eligible for the choice program. For instance, while electricity is deregulated in Ohio, those in the South Central Power Company service area are not eligible to choose a new electricity supplier in their area.
If you are able to choose, take a look at PUCO’s Apples to Apples comparison website (http://energychoice.ohio.gov) just to ensure you’re getting the best deal.