Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

N.J. Law Empowers Electricity Shoppers

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

N.J. Law Empowers Electricity Shoppers

Article excerpt

Offers to save on your electric and gas bills are appealing, especially when they include frequent flier miles or other incentives.

But as some homeowners have discovered, comparing prices can be confusing and, when all the facts are known, the deals may not be as good as they seem.

That's why we welcome a bill signed into law last week that is designed to make it easier for us to shop for electricity suppliers, a right we've had since 1999 under the state's Electric Discount and Energy Competition Act.

To help consumers make apples-to-apples comparisons, under the 1999 law, the state's utilities were required to list a "price to compare" on their bills. That helped, but it didn't go far enough, and the new law is designed to correct that.

The problem is that the price cited by the utility changes from month to month, based on usage patterns, while rates quoted by what are known as third-party suppliers -- companies licensed by the state, but whose rates are not regulated by the Board of Public Utilities -- can be variable from Day One. Or it can be fixed for some period (how long is often hard to discern) before becoming variable, said Tony Robinson, director of basic generations services at Public Service Electric and Gas Co.

My PSE&G bills are typical. My price to compare was 10.9578 cents per kilowatt hour last month, lower than the 11.3071 cents I paid in June but higher than February's 10.8000 cents.

So what number do I use to determine how much I might save by switching suppliers, including two that recently offered introductory rates of 10.87 cents?

Because third-party rates are often guaranteed for a limited time, you can face sticker shock after the initial period, as happened to Greg Zampino of River Edge.

Lured by an offer of a $100 bonus and a promise that he'd save 5 percent on his bill, he switched from PSE&G to Energy Plus for both electricity and natural gas to "save a few bucks," he said. "Well, was I wrong."

He did save in the first two months, but rates were about the same in the third, and much higher in the fourth, he said.

So Zampino decided to switch back to PSE&G. The process was simple, but based on billing cycles, he had to wait one month for electricity and two for gas. …

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