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.
Even though customers in deregulated Texas markets routinely pay more for electricity, there is a bright spot. The gap between the average price paid for electricity between deregulated and regulated market has shrunk to 8.8 percent. In 2006, customers in deregulated cities were paying nearly 47 percent more for electricity than their counterparts in regulated cities.
On the other hand, month-to-month variable rate (no-contract) plans don’t have cancellation fees. You won’t be penalized if you find a better deal elsewhere and want to make another switch. And, you won’t be stuck paying more than you should be if the market rate for electricity trends down. But, if it goes up, you’ll be paying more than your in-contract neighbors, and you’ll likely want to shop around again for a better deal.
Just be sure you know what you’re signing up for. Just Energy doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to transparency. In recent years, the Massachusetts Attorney General ordered the company to pay $4 million in restitution to customers who were charged exorbitant rates and cancellation fees that did not appear in Just Energy’s advertising. As part of the settlement, Just Energy agreed to run all its advertising past an independent monitor.
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Know that Green Mountain’s cheapest advertised plans are all variable rate plans. “Pollution Free,” “Pollution Free Try 3,” or “SolarSPARC 10 Try 3” all advertise a great initial rate — a full cent below Pennsylvania’s 8.49 cent “price to compare” — but its variable rates means the company can raise them at any time. The two “Try 3” plans just lock in the low introductory rate for three months instead of one. The flipside of fixed rate: Should prices fall, you’ll be locked into a contract with a constant, elevated rate for two more months.
Prior to electricity deregulation, power was supplied by regional utility monopolies that could own and operate all three parts of electric service. In response to a growing demand for competition in the industry, spurred by the success of deregulation in the airline and telecommunications industries, Congress passed the National Energy Policy Act in 1992 which created wholesale electric markets that allow for open access of generation.