Electricity companies — also commonly referred to as electric providers, electric suppliers, or REPs (Retail Electric Providers) in deregulated markets — are companies that offer electricity to customers. For customers living in states with regulated energy markets, the electric company is also typically their utility. However, customers living in energy deregulated areas (such as cities in Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, etc.) have the option to shop around for their electricity provider.
These are just a few of the electric providers offering electricity to residential and commercial customers in deregulated energy markets across the United States:
For many customers, changing or switching to an electricity provider is a big decision. However, in many cases, the opportunity to choose an electricity provider also comes with the advantage of gaining lower, more competitive energy rates, as well as other customer service benefits.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) defines electric/customer choice as, “The right of customers to purchase energy from a supplier other than their traditional supplier or from more than one seller in the retail market”. In other words, a consumer of electricity has the option to choose the company that provides them with that electricity. If that customer is not happy with their current electricity provider, they have the right to shop for those same services elsewhere.
While the idea of choice might seem appealing to all electricity consumers, not everyone has access to its benefits. Only customers in states that have opted to open up their energy market to deregulation can take advantage of electric choice.
What is Energy Deregulation?
Energy Deregulation is a law that went into effect in the late 90’s early 2000’s for many states across America. It is the process by which energy utilities had to allow newly established electricity providers to offer products and services related to the supply of electricity.
Today, utilities within energy deregulated states are still required to handle the delivery and maintenance components of electricity. However, within the supply market, electricity companies generate competition because of the greater volume of companies for consumers to choose from. Electric companies need to keep rates and other services low and reasonable, otherwise the customer can choose to take their business elsewhere. Simply put, without deregulation, there would be no customer choice.
Electricity Providers in the United States
It is possible to find an electricity provider in many states, including:
|Michigan||New Hampshire||New Jersey|
Electricity Providers Outside of the United States
Since energy deregulation is relatively new in the United States, particularly in individual states, many customers have had question the benefits of switching to an electricity provider. Fortunately, there have been many reports and studies on the industry to help us better understand how electric companies are changing the way people think about their rates and services.
]The United States isn’t the only country in the world to implement energy deregulation — other countries outside of the US have had deregulated energy markets well before us. Other energy deregulated countries with electricity providers include:
- New Zealand
Although it is difficult to pin down exactly how many Electricity Providers there are in the United States, as of 2014 44% of 37.8 million eligible customers across the United States switched to supplier provided services.
Finding the Best Electricity Provider for Your Home or Business
When looking or searching for an electricity provider, it is important to really understand that you have the option to choose a company that best suits your needs. If you are unhappy with your current provider, doing your research can help to ensure that when you make the switch, you don’t get caught by surprise.
Basic Contract of an Electric Company
When it comes to signing a contract, it is important to read it through carefully. There might be instances where as a customer you want to terminate your contract before it expires. You need to know if that action is possible, as well as if there are any termination fees associated to that action.
Some of the terms that might appear on an Electricity Provider contract include,
Price Structure – is the price fixed or variable? The Electricity Provider should provide the pricing structure information for the customer directly on the contract.
Generation/Supply Price – displayed as either $/kWh or ¢/kWh.
Deposit Requirements – if the customer is required to provide a deposit, the amount is listed on the contract.
Incentives – if there are any bonuses, discounts, cash back opportunities, etc. they are listed on the contract.
Contract Length – the start and end date of the contract or agreement is listed clearly and in plain language.
Cancellation/Early Termination Fees – any fees associated to ending the contract with the Electricity Provider prior to the end date are listed clearly and in plain language.
Renewal Terms – how the customer is treated at the end of the contract is provided. This term should not include any fees.
Types of Electricity Provider Plans
Electricity Providers can offer many different kinds of plans and services. For example, depending on the size of a business or home could change the type of plan the Electricity Provider offers. That being said, there are a few types of plans that are quite common across the industry. Some of these plans include,
Fixed Rate Plan – A Fixed Rate Plan keeps rates at one price, regardless of the market price. This plan also allows the customer to choose a provider that offers long-term options.
Variable Rate Plan – With a Variable Rate Plan, rates can drop or rise depending on the market price. This means that if prices drop, the rate also drops. On the other hand, if the prices rise, rates will follow.
Indexed Plan – An Indexed Plan starts with an introductory rate and then changes to the market price rate after the introductory rate expires.
Green Plan – Green plans allow the consumer to purchase the supply of electricity that is generated by clean resources like the sun or wind. In Texas for example, it is common for an Electricity Provider who offers this type of plan to offer electricity generated from wind farms.
In addition to electricity supply, electricity providers offer products that help to keep energy costs low. It is for this reason that when contacting Electricity Providers, it’s a good idea to ask questions about what type of products would benefit your home or business.
Not every electricity company offers the same products, but they can typically include,
- Energy Management Business Solutions
- Heating Solutions
- Ventilation Solutions
- Air Conditioners
- Green Energy Solutions
Questions to Ask Providers
When choosing an electric company and shopping on ElectricChoice.com, it’s important to look for some basic information when looking at a particular company. Here are some examples of important questions to look for (and to ask us, by calling 1-800-974-3020):
- What plans are offered?
- How much does a kilowatt/hr cost?
- Does the rate include all fees?
- Do I have to pay a deposit?
- Is there a contract?
- How long is the contract?
- What happens if I break the contract?
- What happens if I want to renew my contract?
- Are you a PUC approved Electricity Provider?
- Are there any hidden fees associated to the contract or services provided?
- What are the typical energy savings that customers see on their monthly bill?
- What are the payment options?
- Do you have a customer dashboard where customers can view their energy use and savings?
- How do you contact your customers?
- What types of energy saving technologies does your company offer?
- Who do I contact for issues with my bill?
There are of course also times where you need to watch out for warning signs. Like any other industry, some electricity providers don’t have the customer’s best interests at heart. Be careful if the provider:
- shows up at your door or says that your utility asked you to call because you need to switch providers quickly. These are scams and can end up costing customer more time, energy and money.
- has renewed your contract without your permission (or you’ve heard of it happening to others).
- offers low introductory offers. When the offer ends, rates can soar!
- doesn’t want to sign a contract or doesn’t provide a contract.
Electricity Providers in the United States are managed and monitored through several government organizations. There are also many government run initiatives that specialize in providing the public with information and reports on the energy industry and more. Some of these organizations include:
ElectricChoice.com – While not a government organization, we’re one of the leading resources for consumers looking for electric companies and providers. Not only can you learn all about deregulation in your state on Electric Choice, but you can also shop for any one of their great plans, as well.
Public Utilities Commission – Every state across America has a Public Utilities Commission (PUC). For states that are energy deregulated, the PUC is responsible for handling problems or issues that arise with Electricity Providers. Contacting this government entity will help to answer questions or provide information regarding this topic.
EIA – The United States Energy Information Administration doesn’t directly focus on electricity providers. However, it does provide a lot of information about the energy industry itself so that consumers have a better understanding of current trends and what reasonable rates should look like.
Better Business Bureau – While it’s possible to search for many different types of companies on this organization’s website, it is possible to do the same for Electricity Providers. Doing so will provide a rating for the company and other related information including complaints.