We’ve done some of the work for you. We homed in on five of the biggest electric companies in Pennsylvania: Constellation Energy, Direct Energy, FirstEnergy Solutions, Green Mountain Energy, and Just Energy. We compared their plans, rates, special offers, and philanthropies, then dug into the contract fine print to uncover sneaky fees and the truth about discounts. Because most providers offer a range of options, we also looked at the companies behind the plans — paying attention to their corporate impact, customer service reputation, and customer resources in particular.
In Texas' deregulated energy market, customers must pick their own electricity provider, all of which offer different rates per hour of power usage. You can shop for other power plans on the state-run website, www.powertochoose.org, or try an alternative website, like www.texaspowerguide.com to help find the cheapest plan. Keep in mind that many retail electricity contracts carry penalties for early termination.
Over a year, you could save nearly $100 by choosing the green plan. But it’s important to note that Constellation’s attractive initial rates will very likely not be around for a second year. According to the customer reviews on Consumer Affairs, this new contract usually jacks up the price. It offers great rates for new customers, but it may not be worth it to stick with them for more than an initial contract.
Technology that now allows smaller quantities of power to be generated closer to the end-users at prices not too much higher than grid-based power are undermining those economies of scale. More efficient turbines, for example, allow large power users like cement plants and petrochemical factories to come off the grid. Today the limiting factor for large companies to come off the grid often isn’t the efficiency of the power generation technology, but the lack of easy availability of fuel, such as gas or coal to power these turbines Even this problem is being solved by innovations like mini-liquefied natural gas projects.
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As you shop, you’ll see the rates advertised in terms of kilowatts per hour (kWh) — the energy used to power 1,000 watts for one hour. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average price per kWh for electricity in Pennsylvania is 14.52 cents, while the Public Utility Commission's “price to compare” currently hovers around 8.0 cents. Clearly, there’s a lot of price variety out there. And, given the hundreds of providers doing business in Pennsylvania, exploring electricity options can be pretty toilsome.
While there is a very strong argument for providing cheap, subsidized power for the poorest in society, this should be done in a way that limits subsidies to the really deserving and the system as a whole needs to be able to charge tariffs that on average cover all costs. If this doesn’t happen then all manner of bad things will follow. As you might guess prices have been set too low by African governments. These subsidies have also been made too widely available, benefitting the elite and middle classes more than the poor (who, not having good access to the grid in the first place, don’t have ready access to these subsidies).
Many people are aware that Iceland has the cleanest energy in the world by far. The island-nation generates 100% of its electricity from renewables such as hydroelectric and geothermal sources, and it’s also flirting with wind power. What those same people might not realize, however, is that this results in some of the cheapest electricity in the world.
The problem is that across Africa, the vast majority of the power utilities are effectively bankrupt. Another World Bank study (pdf) on African Utilities shows that only two of the 39 African utilities surveyed, in the Seychelles and Uganda, were able to generate enough cash to cover both their operating costs and capital expenditures necessary to invest in the maintenance and expansion of the grid. In fact, only 19 of the 39 companies were able to generate enough cash to cover their day-to-day operating costs. It means the rest were not even able to pay everyday costs, like salaries, in full.