One of the most common sticking points for electricity customers is what, exactly, the difference is between an electricity provider (also called REP, CRES, or electric supplier) and an electric utility (also called a TDSP, TDU, or EDU). They’re both vital to the success of electricity deregulation, but they play very different roles. Understanding how they fit together can make a big difference in your overall confidence as an electricity customer trying to shop for the best electricity plan.
Variable rate plans are always month-to-month, save for three-month intro specials in which your rate stays the same for those early months. Fixed rate plans, on the other hand, are available for periods ranging from six to 36 months. The contract lengths, and how that length influences the price per kWh rate, varies enormously from company to company. Some companies offer lower rates when you enroll for longer periods. Others raise the rate slightly. The competing rationale: You will be paying them for longer so you get a break, or you have that price locked in when energy rates inevitably rise. One rule of thumb — the longer the contract, the higher the cancellation fee.
Twenty-nine states have deregulated electricity, natural gas or both. That allows you to shop for the supply portion of your bill from alternative providers who may offer rates lower than the default supplier – usually a utility. Delivery services and billing will remain the responsibility of the local utility as they own the power lines and wires that keep the lights on.