Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Need cheaper electric? PPL will find it for you Consumers don't have to do their own shopping
BY TIM MEKEEL, Business Editor
Here in PPL Electric Utilities territory, more than 40 electricity suppliers are vying for residential customers.
And for consumers trying to size up the multitude of offers available to them, it's like comparing apples to oranges.
Fixed rates, variable rates, introductory rates, cancellation fees, renewable energy -- the wrinkles seem endless.
But Thursday, the state approved a PPL plan to cut through the clutter and find cheaper alternatives on behalf of its customers.
Starting this summer, customers can ask PPL to find a supplier for them that's 5 percent below its price for four months.
Or they can ask PPL to find a supplier for them that's 7 percent below its price for 12 months.
PPL spokesman Michael Wood explained:
"People who are still hesitant to shop will get the benefits of a competitive market without having to consider the different options themselves."
PPL essentially will become a matchmaker.
It will find lower cost suppliers for customers wanting to drop PPL but not willing, or not able, to do the research on their own.
The plan comes as the state Public Utility Commission asks electric utilities in Pennsylvania to boost participation in "Electric Choice."
Under Electric Choice, customers can pick an alternative supplier to provide their electricity.
PPL has the highest percentage of customers who've switched to an alternate supplier in the state, at 43.8 percent.
They consume almost 73 percent of all electricity used in PPL territory.
One reason for the comparatively strong response to Electric Choice in PPL territory is the market.
Customers who are looking for a better deal than PPL literally have dozens of choices.
Of the 42 alternate suppliers listed on the PUC website, papowerswitch.com, 27 are cheaper than PPL's 7.54 cents per kilowatt hour.
(These prices are quoted in the "price to compare" format mandated by the PUC. The "price to compare" includes the cost of generation and transmission, or about two-thirds of the total bill.)
The lowest price shown on the PUC website on Thursday was Palmco Power's 6.29 cents per kwh.
Here's a closer look at what the PUC approved.
PPL will hold an auction to find a supplier willing to sell power to consumers for a minimum of 5 percent below PPL's price.
Customers who sign up for this program would get a $50 bonus, plus the discounted price for four months, starting in July.
Then they'll get a fixed price from the winning supplier for eight more months.
PPL's second plan will find electricity for consumers priced at 7 percent below PPL's price.
This discount will start in August and last for a year, but there's no cash bonus.
Details on how to sign up for these offerings will be provided by PPL in the coming months.
Among other features of the PPL plan, the PUC decided to keep having the utility adjust its price to compare quarterly.
PPL had proposed semiannual adjustments, as part of its initiative unveiled last May to enhance Electric Choice.
"We're pleased with the PUC decision (Thursday)," Wood said. "They accepted most of our proposals.
"We believe we're taking steps to avoid confusion in the marketplace and encourage more participation … ," he said.
Electric Choice got off to a roaring start in PPL's 29-county territory on Jan. 1, 2010, as state-mandated caps on PPL's rates expired.
That expiration caused PPL's rates to soar 29.7 percent.
Finally able to beat PPL's rates, numerous alternate suppliers rushed into the market.
The number of customers who switched from PPL rose quickly.
By January 2011, a year into Electric Choice, the percentage using alternate suppliers reached 36 percent.
But over the past two years, the growth has slowed dramatically.
The number of PPL customers who've switched hit 41 percent last January and reached nearly 44 percent this month.