Generally, the generation of electricity is unrelated to anything on your bill. Power plant companies generate electricity and sell it to utilities as well as retail electricity providers in deregulated areas. The electricity is then resold to you, the customer. Transmission and distribution is taken care of and charged to you by your utility, regardless of what company supplies the electricity. These charges are separate from the supply portion of your bill.
As of April 2014, 16 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have deregulated electricity markets. Along with aforementioned Maryland and Texas, electricity deregulation is current in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Seven additional U.S. states began the process of electricity deregulation but have suspended efforts: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, and Wyoming.
Multi-year electricity contracts are not unusual; this method of structuring customer timelines is. Our guess: It’s a holdover style of billing from FirstEnergy’s involvement with governmental aggregations — municipal groups that get together and buy their energy as a community. Rather than have the option of a long term or short term plan, consumers are forced to take what’s available to them at the time.
Deregulation seeks to drive down costs and spur innovation by breaking up energy monopolies. In their place, two separate entities take care of 1) generation and 2) distribution. Electric Generation Suppliers (EGS) create electricity and set their own prices for consumers. Electric Distribution Companies (EDC), a.k.a., your local utility company, bring that electricity to your home.
This company has more plan variety than any other we looked at, though most of them seem more flashy than functional. And some seem weirdly niche — like "Connect to Comfort," a 24-month plan that comes with a Hive Hub and a Hive Active Thermostat, smart home devices that allow you to control your heat and A/C via app. Like many of Direct Energy’s plans, how good of a deal it is depends on how closely its offers align with your established habits.
Deregulation allows you to choose from a variety of retail electricity providers, much like you’d shop around for a telephone or internet provider. When choosing an electricity provider, the process is completely hassle-free. You will not have any service interruptions, your electricity will still be just as reliable as before, and your monthly bill will continue to arrive. If your power goes out, your utility will still be the one to call. The only change will be under the supply portion of you bill. There, you will see the provider you selected and the rate you approved.
Ultimately, the main difference between an electricity provider and an electric utility comes down to what they service and how. Electricity providers deal with purchasing and marketing electricity to customers. Electric utilities handle the poles and wires that service your home. Separating these roles means customers can shop for a competitive electricity rate and still receive reliable electric service.
Technology also provides a long-term answer, even if it contributes to the problem in the short-term, as described earlier. As renewable power and storage technologies become cheaper and more efficient they will gradually allow for the implementation of cheaper mini-grids and smart grids, increasingly within the reach of the really poor, even in urban areas. Perhaps, grids will one day become marketplaces allowing people to sell excess power from their solar installations to those who have a need for power at that time. Prices can be set dynamically to allow supply to match demand.