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Shopping Advice for Retail Energy Buyers

May 20, 2015 By Josh Kessler

An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer considered whether shopping for retail energy was worth the effort and provided advice on how customers can get the best deal. The article focused on residential customers, but many of the findings are relevant for businesses as well. The author noted that customers with electric heat have much higher electricity costs than other customers (as do business customers) and therefore have a much stronger incentive to switch.

The author signed four fixed-rate supply contracts in four years and reduced his personal energy supply costs by an average of 11.4 percent. The only month he paid more than the utility rate was when the fixed-rate term of his contract ended, and he was switched to a variable-rate plan. He cautioned that there is no guarantee the retail price will beat the utility’s price over the long term and recommended that buyers take the following steps in order to get the best deal:

  • Identify providers using the state-run website PAPowerSwitch,* and confirm the price with the supplier to ensure the price listed on the website is up to date.
  • Do not sign up with door-to-door salespeople or telemarketers, or with suppliers who require disclosure of personal information before providing price quotes.
  • Use caution when signing up for variable-price or introductory-price plans; prices can change quickly.
  • Watch for notice that a fixed-price contract is ending and explore new plans when the time comes.

National websites like ChooseEnergy.com and SaveOnEnergy.com can also help customers to identify and compare plans. See Retail Energy Buyer’s Directory of Energy Shopping Websites for other state-specific shopping websites, similar to Pennsylvania’s PAPowerSwitch. These sites are intended for residential and small business customers.

Larger businesses and institutions have to do more research on their own to identify pricing plans. However, they also have much more leeway to solicit competitive bids from providers, negotiate prices and adjust their energy consumption patterns to optimize the value they extract from their energy plans. They also have the option to hire energy brokers or advisers who can help them to get the best deals on their energy purchases – and this can be a good idea, especially for buyers with limited experience procuring energy.

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