Retail Energy Competition in New York
The New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) opened the State's electric and natural gas industries to competition. Changes in both of these markets have provided an opportunity for consumers to choose their supplier of electricity and/or natural gas.
The PSC approved utility plans and implemented procedures that give electric and natural gas customers access to energy suppliers known as energy service companies, or "ESCOs." The plans require the utilities to offer retail choice to customers who want to shop for electricity and natural gas and other related services or products. The delivery of electricity and natural gas to homes and businesses, however, will remain the job of the local utility and continue to be regulated by the PSC.
Competition sometimes produces products that promote new services. For example, some ESCOs may offer value added services, such as fixed rates (the rate per kwh, ccf or therm is the same each month), green power (electricity generated from renewable resources such as wind, solar or hydro), furnace repair or maintenance service, frequent flier miles or telephone service bundled with your energy bill. Compare Your Options. It is important to carefully compare the prices and products offered by any supplier who sells electricity and/or natural gas and the terms and conditions of the sales contract to know what you are signing up for.
What Stays the Same? What Changes?
Your current utility will still deliver electricity and natural gas to your home or business through its existing transmission and distribution system. You will still call your utility if there is any disruption to the delivery of your electricity or natural gas, or if you have an emergency situation. You can continue to purchase your electricity and natural gas from the utility,.
If you choose an ESCO to supply your electricity or natural gas, you can expect some changes. For example, your ESCO might provide other energy products or services. The ESCO may also bill you separately for any products or services it sells you, including electricity and natural gas. Whatever changes you experience, however, you will continue to receive electricity and natural gas delivery and storm restoration services from your utility.
The PSC requires that ESCOs offer reasonable customer protections, such as:
ESCOs must comply with specific requirements of the New York State General Business Law and the PSC’s Uniform Business Practices when marketing energy services to residential customers and/or through door-to-door sales and when enrolling customers.
§ a statement disclosing the ESCO's complaint resolution process;
§ a 15-day notice before discontinuing service;
§ customer choice of service from another ESCO or the utility when an ESCO discontinues service;
§ clear procedures for switching suppliers;
§ convenient complaint handling; and,
§ ESCOs serving residential customers must comply with the Home Energy Fair Practices Act (HEFPA) and PSC orders regarding payment allocation methods.
ESCOs must provide residential customers and customers marketed to via door-to-door sales with an ESCO Consumers Bill of Rights, which identifies an ESCO customers rights.
You may contact the PSC to register a complaint about an ESCO. Upon receipt, the PSC will forward the complaint to the ESCO for resolution. The PSC has the authority to revoke an ESCO's eligibility to do business if an excessive number of legitimate complaints against the ESCO are received.
If you choose an ESCO, you may receive two bills: one bill from the ESCO for electricity and/or natural gas supply and other products it sells to you, and one from the utility for transmission and delivery charges. Other options are possible -- the utility may bill you on behalf of the ESCO and include the ESCO's charges in its bill, or the ESCO may bill you on behalf of the utility and include the utility's charges in the ESCO's bill.
Regardless, you will always have access to your usage and billing history, and that information can only be released by the utility with your permission.
Safety and Reliability
The safety and reliability of the delivery system is still the responsibility of the utility. It will maintain the lines and pipes and repair them if there is an outage or storm. The PSC will also ensure that a safe and reliable delivery system exists, through continued regulation of this portion of the industry.
Furthermore, should your ESCO go out of business, the utility will make sure you continue to receive electricity and/or natural gas.If you decide to switch back to the utility or to a different, there will be no interruption in your service.
Choosing an ESCO
If you want to shop for an electricity and/or natural gas supplier, you can find out which ESCOs are serving customers in your area by obtaining a list of ESCOs eligible to provide service in New York State from your utility or the PSC. (See "Want to Know More?") Before you sign a contract with an ESCO, you should do the following:
§ Compare prices and services offered.
§ 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.
§ Check out the PSC’s ESCO Residential Complaint Scorecard.
§ 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.
Want to Know More?
If you have further questions, want more information, or would like to comment, please:
Call the PSC toll-free
competition information line
Call the PSC toll-free Opinion Line
Call the PSC toll-free
Alternative Energy Line
Call the PSC toll-free HELPLINE
Kathleen H. Burgess, Secretary
NYS Public Service Commission
Three Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12223-1350
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