Last week, we talked about why many listeners saw their bills spike this winter. Gerald Norlander, executive director of New York's Utility Project, explains why other listeners didn't, and the options available for customers who want to shop around.
Gerald Norlander of New York's Utility Project said that using less electricity is the only sure way to lower your bill, but if you want to shop around here's his advice to keep in mind as you consider your options:
If you sign up for a fixed-rate plan with a third-party supplier, such as Con Ed Solutions, you'll pay the same rate per kWh every month and your bill will vary depending on your use, not changes in price. You won't see major spikes like other customers are seeing this winter.
But you might be paying more in the long run on these fixed-rate plans. "I wouldn't do it, there's not enough information out there with track records," Norlander said. "None of these energy companies come out and say how they've done, how their customers have done in total over any period of time."
Some suppliers offer green energy options, but you aren't getting different energy than your neighbor. Customers are getting "the blended input of all generators running" and while you can show your support for renewable energy by signing up, Norlander notes that there's no way to know exactly what you're paying for.
You may have been contacted by an ESCO (energy services company) offering an alternative to your current supplier. Some of these offer discounts that are misleading or which expire after a few months, leaving customers with much higher bills than they had before. You can use a bill calculator to check your bill.
New York State has less consumer protection and oversight on utilities than many other states, and Norlander said this could lead to problems with transparency and rate changes. "We spend less [on oversight] than Iowa, we spend less than one-fifth of what Pennsylvania spends on this function," Norlander said. You can file a complaint with the Public Service Commission about your bill here.