The Checkout

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Choice?

Annys Shin

I've been delving into the process of finding alternate suppliers of electricity and gas, known as "energy choice." Apparently, there are some brave souls out there who have put in a good chunk of their time figuring out where to get the best deal for their electricity and gas needs. It involves calling the various licensed suppliers, getting rate quotes and comparing those to the rate your utility is offering. If you go with the alternates, you can sign up for a variable or fixed rate for a certain number of months. Before you renew, of course, it's wise to make sure you're still getting what you want in terms of price or in terms of sources of energy if renewable energy is a priority. That means going through this whole process maybe once or even twice a year.

I know consumers are all about control and customization these days, but it does take time and research. I tried to liken the whole energy shopping experience to cell phone service. Every two years, I decide whether my plan still works for me and then I shop for a new phone. Should picking an electricity and gas supplier be any different?

Has anyone out there attempted this? If you live in DC, Maryland or Virginia, tell me about it at shina@washpost.com.

By Annys Shin |  April 23, 2008; 7:05 AM ET Annys Shin
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Comments

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I live in Maryland and have looked at my utility choices. I have decided that utility choice (restructuring) has been a failure in Maryland, although it has been done very differently and has succeeded in other states.

For me there are only a handful of choices and the prices are pretty much the same, unless I want to pay a premium for greener power.

I do know that the profits for the utilities have increased greatly with restructuring and, more importantly, executive pay is no longer regulated so the people at the top are making a LOT more money. Do I need to explain who wrote the restructuring rules for the state?

Few people bother taking advantage of their "choices" because the options aren't very compelling. I would prefer a return to the old system where we all paid the same for electricity and gas at rates determined by the utility commission.

Posted by: Josey | April 23, 2008 9:00 AM

The only thing I like about energy choice in MD is that there are green power options. When I shopped around for rates a few months ago, BGE was still the cheapest per KWh. What good does choice do then? The options of cheap power aren't available. My father gets his power from TVA, for about 5 cents per KWh. I'd like to buy that power!

Posted by: RT | April 23, 2008 11:22 AM

I agree that it doesn't seem worth the effort if you're just looking for the same kind of service. But I'm happy to pay a bit of a premium to get 100% wind power, so this system works well for me. I would not want to retrun to the old system, where I would be forced to buy dirty, coal-fueled power.

Posted by: jane | April 23, 2008 2:16 PM

Yes, the option to buy greener power is probably the one part of th program that works well.

Posted by: Josey | May 2, 2008 10:58 AM

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