Ask Dr. Green: Shopping for electricity

Question: Dr. Green, one of my New Years’ resolutions is to save money,but it’s getting tougher with the price of electricity going up. I want to shop for electricity, but I don’t quite understand what to do. What does it even mean to switch electricity suppliers? What benefit do I get from shopping?

Answer: Shopping for electricity is actually pretty easy once you understand the basics.  The good news is that very real savings of 10% to 20% are available to all PECO customers.

The first step is to understand how electricity is sold. Electricity services are divided into three parts: distribution, transmission, and generation: distribution includes the delivery of power to the user; transmission connects the local network to the power plants, and generation is the production of electricity. For years, PECO has done all three. PECO would generate the electricity, transmit it to the local level, and then deliver it to the user.

The restructuring of electricity markets means that you can choose who you want to generate your electricity. PECO is still responsible for the transmission and distribution of electricity.   You’ll still get a PECO bill, but if you chose a different supplier, that company and its charges will be shown on your monthly PECO bill., It’s very easy to switch, and it will be even easier to pay your bill—both because the cost of electricity is lower and because you can pay your supplier through your PECO bill. PECO will still generate power for those customers who do not choose a different supplier, but PECO’s rates are higher than nearly every other option and even PECO is urging its customers to shop.

Visit www.papowerswitch.com to see a comparison of all the suppliers operating in the area. There are a whole host of suppliers to choose from and they offer specific terms, including fixed or variable rates, renewable energy options, cancellation fees, and some even have promotions to sign up. While you should decide which supplier is right for you, you can’t take advantage of electric choice unless you shop. Don’t be left behind when everybody in the state can pay less for the same service. Remember to shop—doctor’s orders.

With electricity prices going up in the long run, you’re wise to ask how long the savings will last. Sure, you’ll pay less for a little while, but the best way to translate your one-time savings into sustained benefits is to invest in energy efficiency. Improving the efficiency of your home will help you lower your bills through conservation. If you use less energy, your bills will be even lower—regardless of your supplier or their prices. In addition, savings from shopping for your electricity supplier only help you on your electric bill, but basic measures like air sealing and insulation will help you save on any non-electric heating bills you might have. To learn more about tax credits, low-interest loans, and quality contractors that can help you invest in energy efficiency, visit www.ecasavesenergy.org/energyworks.

One in three Americans resolved to save money in 2011, but smart consumers should resolve to save money in 2011 and beyond. Electricity shopping gives you a chance to translate one-time savings into permanent benefits that will lower all your utility bills.

Happy 2011!

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