Walkabout: Using a little energy, it's worth selecting supplier of electricity
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Over the past year, I've been receiving letters from various companies offering a chance to switch to their electricity supply. I always read them with one eye on the next thing I have to do.
The Post-Gazette has published articles about electric choice, and I even clipped one out, but it has taken me this long to begin doing my homework to choose a supplier.
More than 30 percent of Pennsylvania residents and businesses already have done so. In Duquesne Light's territory, that percentage is 37 percent.
I suspect many, like me, may have thought, "Hmm, I wonder if this is a reputable outfit?" and "What if they go out of business? Duquesne Light has been reliable, maybe I'd better stick with them."
At a Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission information session last week at the Kingsley Association in Larimer, I became enlightened.
The electric generation market was deregulated in 1997, but a rate cap was in place until the end of 2010. The lifting of that cap unleashed competition among emergent suppliers.
These suppliers are not competing with Duquesne Light. They are supplying power to Duquesne Light to distribute to us. And if any go out of business, their customers will return to Duquesne Light's pool of default users for whom it buys from suppliers. It bundles the costs of generation, transmission and distribution into our bills.
Duquesne Light doesn't make money on default customers, said John Coleman, vice chairman of the PUC. It's kind of like a personal shopper who goes to the store and buys your cereal for you, then delivers it to your house. It's a service you pay more for.
Mr. Coleman used the analogy of a cereal aisle to explain that, since deregulation, Duquesne Light's suppliers have increased to 22 different choices in the past year or so.
"The cereal aisle has healthy options, and yet I might want a little more sugar," he said. Customers choose based on whether they want a fixed rate, renewable energy sourcing or a particular length of contract.
State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, who arranged the information session, said he made the switch last year and has been saving about $15 a month on his electric bill.
Even once you make a new supply choice, you will still get one bill from Duquesne Light, whichever supplier you choose. You also still report problems to Duquesne Light.
About 80 people went to the morning and afternoon sessions, some with their light bills in hand; staff from Duquesne Light and the PUC were there to help them comparison shop and switch online.
If you have no access to a computer, you can call 1-800-692-7380 to be mailed information about supplier choices, based on your ZIP code. At www.papowerswitch.com, you can see the list of suppliers by clicking "find suppliers," then "Duquesne Light" and choosing the "regular residential service" option.
The company names run down the left side of a table that shows whether they offer discounts, use renewable energy sources, the price they charge per kilowatt hour and the monthly estimate of what you would pay. It also shows your price to compare against Duquesne Light's cost of 9.32 cents per kilowatt hour.
Households that use 700 kilowatt hours pay $65 per month at that rate. Twenty suppliers are coming in under that, some by $10 or $20 a month. That's in large part because they don't have to follow the procurement requirements the PUC puts on distributors such as Duquesne Light.
When you shop, consider that some suppliers charge cancellation fees and that contract periods vary. Some fix their rates, which might mean you're stuck with a higher bill should the rates go down.
Dave Hixson, the PUC's information specialist, said there's more to shopping for a supplier than the price you'll pay.
"There are new products out there," he said, "And it's important to many people to see how many renewable energy sources are in their portfolios."
I'm one of those people, so there are only four companies I am considering. I have a little more homework to do, but I am already feeling empowered.
First Published May 15, 2012 6:34 am