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.
But, again, the concept isn’t difficult. Let’s use the city of Joliet as an example. Joliet’s traditional utility for the 60435 area code is Commonwealth Edison. As of late February, its price to compare is 7.195 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh); at this writing, four plans from ChooseEnergy.com featured suppliers with lower rates, including one that’s 18% cheaper and uses all green energy.
Maryland residents are now able to choose who supplies their electricity. (Customers of municipal electric systems and some rural cooperative systems are the exceptions - see "Areas not participating.") Your local utility, now called your electric company, will still deliver the electricity to your home, but you can choose another company to generate the electricity, if other companies are making an offer in your area.
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As the third-largest coal-producing state in the nation, a sizable portion of everyone’s electricity comes from coal, regardless of the plan type you choose. But times are changing: Pennsylvania's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard requires that 18 percent of all electricity sold by 2021 be sourced from renewable energy. The state subsidizes the increase of renewable energy, and by opting for a green plan, your electricity payments do the same.
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.
When we looked at each provider’s offerings, we focused on plans with innovative pricing or attractive deals, then did the math to find out which would pay off over time. To our surprise, the results were all over the board. Green plans weren’t always more expensive than their traditional counterparts. Sometimes a fluctuating variable rate is still cheaper in the long run. Our takeaway: It pays to shop around. We’ll walk you through our analysis — so you can do the same as you compare rates.
Switching electricity supplier could shave pounds off your bills. But it’s not always about how much hard cash you could save. You might be fed up with poor customer service, you might want greater visibility of your usage through an app or you might want to choose your supplier based on their green credentials, or whether they supply a smart meter.