How many times have you heard a neighbor or friend complain about utility and fuel bills? Most people believe we have no control over these escalating prices and are powerless to prevent them.
Some ways to take control are obvious – using the shortest driving distance between two points, eliminating unnecessary car trips, keeping your speed under 65 and your engine and tires in good working order. At home, implementing a host of little energy conservation measures that, in aggregate, add up to big savings. Few, though, are as simple as taking advantage of electric choice, which is fast becoming a reality for most Western Pennsylvanians.
As electric rates caps have come off in other parts of the state, many consumers have exercised their right to switch electricity suppliers. Now, nearly a third of the electricity provided to Pennsylvania homeowners is coming from a competitive supplier. This is one of the highest rates in the nation among those states who allow electricity competition and probably the biggest reason for this success is that you can select an energy supplier who offers lower rates and products which better meet your needs.
This freedom of choice is in jeopardy here in Western Pennsylvania as the caps expire in the Pennelec, Met-Ed, Penn Power and Allegheny Energy service areas in January. Why? Because the pending merger of First Energy and Allegheny Power, coupled with ground rules favoring electric distribution companies that have inter-related energy generation arms, will stack the deck against the full and robust competition that already exists in other parts of Pennsylvania.
Allegheny will become part of First Energy, giving the energy behemoth a stranglehold over most of the state when measured in terms of square miles of territory. Not only does First Energy want to be the distribution company for more than 2 million Pennsylvania households, they want to be the default energy supplier, making it extremely difficult for other energy suppliers to compete.
Most utility customers don’t know where their electricity is generated or how it is produced. Unless they speak up; unless they become savvy energy shoppers, First Energy would become both their electricity supplier and power distributor, and they will be billed at the higher default rate.
Why should smart consumers care who provides the “default service” to those who don’t shop for a better deal? Because putting the default share of the market up for bid can and would drive down electricity prices for everyone, just like any competitive bidding process.
This is as blatant a power grab as I have witnessed in four decades of public service and I urge citizens living in the Pennelec, Allegheny Energy, Penn Power and Met-Ed territories to speak up for full and open competition.
Electric choice raises consumer awareness and empowers us to be more involved in our energy usage and what we pay. This is a crucial first step in solving our nation’s energy problems, as it helps make us ‘think’ about the costs of turning on that light switch or letting the thermostat stay on high. It is said that knowledge is the first step on the road to freedom, and I believe full electric choice is a first step on our way to energy independence.