Consumers: Know What to Expect Before Switching Energy Suppliers

October 10, 2011

In anticipation of the winter weather setting in, some of you may have received letters from energy suppliers offering alternatives for where to buy electricity and gas. I wanted to take some time this week to share with you what the New York State Public Service Commission advises consumers in hopes to save you time, money and frustration.

Competition is good for the marketplace and good for consumers. Competition produces innovation and new technologies, but consumers should read the fine print. Your energy bill consists of two parts – supply and delivery. You can purchase your energy supply from an available supplier or your local electric or gas utility. The delivery portion of your energy service will continue to be provided only by your utility company.

According to the PSC, there are many suppliers providing a wide variety of “products” and price options. Some provide long-term fixed prices; others offer variable rates that change with market conditions; others give the option for customers to lock-in a rate during certain peak months of energy use. Some provide services at a variable price on a month-to-month basis that can be cancelled at any time. In other cases, suppliers require customers to enter into a contract for their purchase of electricity and natural gas. In some instances, the contract requires the customer to commit to purchasing its energy from the supplier for a specified period of time.

If you want to shop for a different electric or gas supplier, you should first obtain a list of providers from your utility or the PSC. Also, consider the following:

  • Compare prices and services offered. You could save money by shopping for lower cost power or you could pay more. It is important to compare the prices offered by any supplier and to know what you are signing up for.
  • Review terms of any written agreements that may be required. These terms may cover special fees, deposits, renewals and switching procedures.
  • Consider customer service features including complaint handling, hours of operation, and toll-free numbers.
  • Evaluate billing and payment options.
  • Research the company’s background. You may want to know how long the company has been in business, the company’s location, if it is affiliated with a utility or any other company, and whether your account information will be kept confidential.

Your current utility will still deliver electricity and gas to your home or business through its existing transmission and distribution system. You will still call your utility if your power goes out, or if you have an emergency situation related to your power.

If you choose an alternate supplier, you can expect some changes. For example, your supplier might provide other energy products. It might bill you separately for any products it sells you. The PSC requires that companies offer reasonable customer protections. You may contact the PSC to register a complaint. The PSC has the authority to revoke eligibility to do business if an excessive number of legitimate complaints are received. Regardless, you will have access to your usage and billing history, and that information can only be released by the utility with your permission. For more information, visit the New York State PSC’s website at

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at or by calling (315) 598-5185. You also can find me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.