Add Energy to Your Decision Making

“Clutter represents delayed decisions,” (Barbara Hemphill) applies to lots of types of clutter and almost any decision.

A friend asked me to write about the choosing an energy supplier in Pennsylvania, where state residents have now been able to choose their electric supplier since January 2011.  This deregulation and the marketing blitz that comes with it causes trouble for those who aren’t so good at or who hate to make decisions.

Not making a decision is, in fact, a decision.  Sure, you can stay with your current provider, the lights will stay on, and you’ll still get a bill.  No harm there, and if this is your choice, move on with your life without guilt.  Of course, the problem with this is that you are leaving money on the table.  It’s not a lot of money, in my case between $10 and $15 a month, and you can simply chose to keep paying that.

I started working at one of the big phone companies in the 1990’s not long after one of the biggest deregulation cases in history, upgrading customers to more economical plans to keep them from jumping ship to a competitor.  Customers were saving money and had the same service no matter who they went with.  I don’t mean they had similar service; in many cases (not all) they had the exact same service that I was selling.  The same thing is going on in the electric industry today, as most of the companies marketing to you are reselling power and not producing it, so you’ll receive the same exact service no matter who bills you.

In a few cases, you’ll also have another decision about whether to buy sustainable power from your chosen supplier.  The sustainable power is still usually less expensive than your current default provider, but it is a teensy bit more expensive than a reseller’s base option so they can invest in alternative energy, like wind and solar farms.

One friend told me she hadn’t made a choice on energy suppliers because when she had chosen providers before, her first two choices had gone out of business a few months later.  There was no harm done, since the service always reverts to the default provider, but she lost a little confidence about her ability to chose this time around.  Our country learned a lot when we deregulated the phone company in the 1980’s.  As a result, all of the offers you’ll be seeing in the mail will have competitive rates that may or may not be guaranteed for some period, contracts that last about a year, billing that is pretty easy to understand through the default provider (PECO in my case), and maybe a promotional gift involved.  The one I received in the mail today offers a $50 VISA card, but I only looked at the letter for research, not because I’m interested in switching.

I switched providers back in January to my energy co-op.  (Full disclosure:  I will earn a token gift if you sign up and mention my name, but even if you don’t, they are worth checking out.  This is not a paid post and I do not sell energy services.) They’ve provided my home heating oil for years and, like a credit union, I like that they are working for the community and not investors.  They aren’t digging the coal or drilling the oil to provide my electric; they are providing the business that I interface with, and they offer sustainable solutions.   Like Target and Wal-Mart don’t manufacture their products (not even the ones with their brand!), they simply aggregate the choices so I can make one trip to the store.

Compared to the PECO rate of $.1042, I’m paying $.0928 per KWh for now,  but I can always make a different decision.  PECO’s  rates to compare and those of other companies do change several times a year, but for the small amount of money involved, I’m not going to spend a lot of time checking and rechecking my current deal.  I’ll probably check into it once a year, like when I renew my oil contract or maybe around tax time.  I’m not locked in, but I am saving about $10 each month, and I don’t have to ever open another envelope marked, “Save on energy” if I don’t want to.

So if you haven’t made your choice yet, talk to the very next friend who tells you they are reselling energy solutions, or send back the reply card for the very next company who asks you to switch.  If they are offering rates below $.11 or so, you’ll make a bit of money now and you’ll still have choices in the future.  And you can finally recycle all of those other mail-in energy offers you’ve been hoarding to review when you had a bit more time, which we both know is never going to make it to the top of the to-do list.

If this post didn’t answer your questions on how to chose an energy supplier, please comment below and let’s talk about it.