Electricity costs for your company will undoubtedly comprise a significant portion of concern for your annual business budget. Electricity is a constant factor and a definitive expense for your business. However, the beauty of electricity service is that, whether you are starting fresh in 2010 or you?ve been a long-standing pillar in your industry, you still have a reasonable margin of control over this cost.

1) Evaluate Your Situation and Act Accordingly

The energy industry is ambitious, highly competitive and fast-paced. As a result, many consumers find themselves signing up for electric service before they?ve even really thought much about their options. It is imperative, especially for commercial energy customers, to evaluate your situation. There may be several factors that could affect your electric plans, costs and services. If you live in an area where electricity is deregulated, then you will benefit greatly from taking the time to consider your options. Otherwise, your options are admittedly limited as you may be required to connect your power with a specific provider.

Determine your average typical electricity usage and what you expect to pay for power. Size up your company and do a bit of research on the internet. It might help to find out what others in your location and situation are asking and how they are approaching this issue. Once you?ve evaluated your situation, act accordingly ? especially if your situation places you in a deregulated energy market for electricity.

2) Use a Consultant to Compare Rates and Uncover Hidden Conditions or Benefits

If you live in a deregulated energy market, you should never sign up for electricity service without first contacting an energy consultant.  You can almost always receive this tremendously valuable service for free, as the Consultants typically earn revenue from the electric suppliers, not the utility customer. There is no reason not to contact a consultant prior to signing up for electricity.

Among other things, the right consultant will:
? Help you compare rates among competing electric providers in your area
? Have access to up-to-date rates for all suppliers as they change day by day.
? Answer all your questions with detailed knowledge of the electricity industry
? Help you evaluate your situation and optimize your electricity savings
? Determine whether it is advantageous for you to switch providers
? Offer information and advisement about government-funded programs
? Help with other services, such as Energy Procurement and Demand Response

These Consultants are experts in the electricity field. Tapping into their readily-available knowledge for free will not only save you time, but could mean huge savings in both short and long term situations. In some cases, your existing electric utility contract may contain ?hidden? terms, conditions, fees, rates and other oft-overlooked material. This may also hold true for rate plans and suppliers you might see while shopping around on the internet. For this reason, some rate plans may appear more desirable than they actually are.

It is crucial to remember that rates and pricing are not the only factors to consider when shopping for electricity. Just because one electric supplier is offering a slightly lower rate than a leading competitor doesn?t mean you?re getting a better value with the better rate. For example, the plan with the higher rate may contain benefits, services or fixed payment schedules that will save you money and provide greater value over time, while the lower-priced plan could be filled with fine-printed fees and restrictions, not to mention locking you into costly contracts. Your Consultant can decipher these discrepancies swiftly and with ease, enabling them to confidently point you in the right direction.

Another key consideration that is frequently ignored when shopping for electricity is the reputation and customer service quality of the provider. You might have the lowest rate on the market, but would you take that option if it meant the company was impossible to contact or deal with? Consultants work with these companies every day. They can advise you on a particular company?s customer service levels based on their own personal relationships with them, as well as published complaints or compliments, email feedback from customers, word-of-mouth and documented achievements and awards.

Most electric companies would be well pleased just to sign you up on the spot when you hit their website. But now that you know the secret, you?ll probably visit a Consultant first.

3) Take advantage of Government-funded programs

Because energy production, supply and consumption is an issue of great concern for our nation and our planet, our governments are implementing programs at both the state and federal levels in an effort to promote environmental awareness regarding energy and make a significant impact toward stemming the negative effects of rising energy production and consumption.

The plans are designed to allow those consumers who use large amounts of electricity to earn huge savings through participation in voluntary programs often referred to as ?Demand Response? programs. In a nutshell, here?s how these programs work: When you join, you are added to a list of program participants. In the event of a substantial spike in demand for electricity, you would be required (along with the other participants) to shut off your electricity for a set period as an offset to the high demand elsewhere. In return for your participation in the program (usually whether you are called to power-down or not), you would receive a substantial discount on your annual electricity costs.

Two of the main Demand Response programs, primarily for commercial consumers, include EILS (Emergency Interruptible Load Service) and LAAR (Load Acting As a Resource). You should evaluate your company?s needs and flexibility while setting up your electricity plan to determine if you should participate in demand response programs and whether it would benefit you. An energy consultant can help you with such concerns as well. Little secrets like this can account for big bucks in return.

4) Practice Smart Switching ? Evaluate Your Electricity Plan Every Year

Don?t fall into a co-dependent relationship with your electric provider. A long history with a particular supplier may give you a feeling of comfort and security, but it doesn?t necessarily mean you?ve got the best available plan. Even if your existing provider has given you decent rates and you?ve never had an issue with them, you should still compare rates and services with other providers if they are available.

Electric providers could stand to earn an estimated 32% additional profit from the average customer after the first year of service. Myriad incentives, rebates, credits and other benefits of first-year service may have comprised the great deal on electricity you received during your first 12 months with a new provider. However, once you?ve crossed that threshold, you may not be getting those unbeatable deals the second time around. For this reason, it is imperative to reevaluate and practice smart switching.

Not only could your first-year promotions have run out by your second year, but new fees, increased rates and other hidden charges could apply. Again, your next best move is to contact an energy consultant. They will be able to determine whether you?re better off sticking with the company for another year or it?s time to switch. Don?t be afraid to change providers, especially if no terms in your contract would penalize you for doing so. There are many smart consumers who recognize how deregulated energy has shifted the market in their favor (such as Texas). Those who know these secrets will practice smart switching by evaluating their service plans annually with the help of an energy consultant, even if it means switching every single year.