Consumers may want to start shopping for something that is not normally thought of this time of year - power.


Consumers may want to start shopping for something that is not normally thought of this time of year - power.
Beginning on New Year’s Day, the price of electricity throughout Pennsylvania will spike - about 30 percent in Wayne County - as a long-standing law that capped rates at the price it sold in 1996 will no longer be in effect.
However, consumers will be allowed to literally “shop” for power among an assortment of electric-generating companies.
Or they can stay with the power price offered by their current utility provider; for Wayne County, PPL Electric’s price will increase by 29.7 percent next year for the average residential customer, according to company figures.
“This is not something people should be afraid of,” said Pennsylvania Consumer Advocate Sonny Popowsky, since it gives the consumer an opportunity to potentially lock-in lower rates. “There’s no reliability issue at all. The (electric) delivery is still done by PPL; the billing is still done by PPL.”
All that is different is who generated the power and how much that power will cost the consumer, which will be reflected in their monthly PPL Electric bill. (PPL Electric derives some of its revenue from power “distribution” charges.)
Popowsky said that there are now offers from some electric-generating companies that could save a consumer an estimated 10 percent off the rate PPL Electric locked-in for its customers in 2010.
Would-be power providers include Virginia-based Dominion Energy Solutions, Ohio-based Direct Energy, and Pennsylvania-based Community Energy. After contacting a company, they will mail a contract with terms that can be completely reviewed before signing-on.
The companies offer a fixed power price, generally for one year or more.
In the case of Community Energy, consumers can choose that company if they prefer buying power, albeit slightly more expensive, that is generated through renewable sources such as wind.
Power prices are expected to change year-over-year, so consumers should be aware that there may be better deals on the horizon, said Popowsky.
“We know what the rate is going to be for the next 12 months,” he added. “After ... 2010, it’s possible PPL’s rate may actually go down.”
PPL Electric, which entered into contracts with electric-generating companies when power was more expensive in recent years, may even become more competitive - and cheaper - as new deals become available.
A spokesperson for PPL Electric was unavailable for comment on Monday. The company purchased its power from 25 electric-generating companies over a two-year period - setting the power rate at a 29.7 percent increase in 2010, over 2009. Small businesses will see an average increase of 18.4 percent, 36.1 percent for mid-size businesses.
Businesses can also shop for power, although Popowsky recommended that they do their “homework” first before agreeing to any terms.
In time, other electric-generating companies may also enter Pennsylvania’s market, creating more competition and in theory causing prices to stabilize or fall depending upon market conditions.
“Rates could go down in 2011,” he said.
The Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate lists the prices of all competing electric-generating companies including contact information. That information may be found at http://www.oca.state.pa.us/Industry/Electric/elecomp/ElectricGuides.htm. A “power shopping guide” can also be mailed by contacting that office at (717) 783-5048 or toll free 800-684-6560.