Washington D.C. has changed enormously over the past few decades, as wave after wave of millennial transplants move to the city. Tall cranes and high-rise condos are taking over the skyline. What were once dark streets now shine with gleaming, modern department stores and restaurants that serve you tasting flights of port and sherry. Rock Creek Park is thick with joggers. The city throbs to the heartbeat of the young, the engaged, and the connected.
The city has improved in a less obvious way as well. Since the early 2000s, D.C. has allowed third-party energy suppliers to operate in the District. This change affects you, even if you haven’t had time to think about who supplies your energy. After all, D.C.’s a busy place, full of busy, driven people. But it might be worth your while to give third-party energy suppliers a look.
As the city changes and new housing goes up, D.C. is becoming a very expensive place to live. Currently, it’s the 4th most expensive city by rent in the U.S. and 3rd most expensive overall (the metro ain’t cheap). Even utility prices are the 3rd most expensive east of the Mississippi River. So if there’s a chance you can make your life easier with a more predictable electricity bill and a plan that works for your lifestyle, it may behoove you to take it. Here’s a quick guide to how it all works:
D.C. Restructures Utility Monopoly to Allow Third-Party Suppliers
Before deregulated energy, there were only two games in town. I don’t mean Republicans and Democrats; I mean Pepco and Washington Gas & Light, the two licensed utility providers. If you were buying electricity, you were buying from one of those two companies. That changed in 2001, when the D.C. Public Service Commission approved electricity choice programs for residential consumers. Now, residents are able to buy their electricity from any of dozens of different third-party energy suppliers.
So who are these third-party energy suppliers? Third-party energy suppliers are companies that buy electricity from power plants, energy markets, and energy wholesalers and then sell it directly to consumers. By allowing these companies to operate within the District, the city government has created far more choices for consumers than before.
When the only options were the utilities, consumers had no opportunity to find a better deal or a rate structure that they preferred. It was like the metro — everyone knows it’s less than perfect, but people ride it because they don’t have another choice. Now, not only do consumers have more options, but the utilities themselves are pressured by this free market competition to improve their offerings and their service.
So what’s the difference between third-party suppliers and utilities? Unlike utilities, third-party energy suppliers don’t handle the transmission and distribution of electricity. That means their only focus is buying and selling energy—they don’t need to maintain and repair power lines. This narrow scope helps them concentrate on finding the best possible deals, structuring attractive rate plans, and providing the highest quality customer service.
Third-Party Suppliers in the D.C. Area
Once the market opened up to allow third-party suppliers in D.C., many companies seized the opportunity to set up shop. With so many to choose from, and so little time, how do you know which one is right for you?
Choosing an energy supplier is actually a fairly simple process, and many resources are already available to guide you through the steps. In particular, the District’s Public Service Commission is an excellent resource for energy supplier information. There are four basic steps:
- First, look at your current plan to find out how much energy you use, how much you pay for that energy, and whether you pay a fixed or variable rate.
- Next, check the Commission’s list of licensed electricity suppliers to find companies offering different electricity plans. While the length of the list may seem daunting, only a small percentage of these companies are currently servicing customers. These companies, like Liberty Power, are denoted with an X in the rightmost two columns.
- To look at a company’s offerings, check out their prices either on their website.
- Once you know the prices companies are offering, compare them to your original bill to see if there are any potential savings. The Commission’s calculator can help you with this step.
Questions to Ask Before Switching Energy Suppliers
Caveat emptor: as with any purchase, it pays to ask questions before you buy. While a new electricity supplier may seem to offer a great deal up front, you might be surprised by hidden fees or a variable price rate when you look at your first bill. Before you agree to switch suppliers, you should find out:
- Is the offered rate fixed for the duration of the agreement? Or does it vary?
- If it varies, what is the price based on?
- Do I need to sign a contract for a specified period of time? What are the terms and conditions?
- Is there an early cancellation fee on your contract?
- What happens when the agreement expires? Will our terms be automatically renewed?
- Will the rates change when the agreement is renewed?
- How often will I be billed? Who is responsible for billing?
- If I don’t use electricity for a period of time, will I have to pay a minimum fee?
Two of the biggest ways third-party energy suppliers have innovated supply rate structuring are with fixed rate plans and renewable energy credits. Fixed-rate plans guarantee that the price a consumer pays for electricity will stay the same for the duration of their agreement with the supplier, giving you predictability and helping you avoid sudden price spikes. Renewable energy credits allow you to promote clean, green energy without having to set up your own solar panel or windmill. When a consumer purchases a renewable energy credit, the supplier purchases the same amount of energy from a renewable source, like wind or solar. While the consumer may not receive the energy actually generated from the renewable source—there’s no way to separate it from other electricity—they will know that their energy use is offset by renewable power. By switching to a third-party supplier, you can take advantage of options that fit your lifestyle and your budget.
At Liberty Power, we believe in the power of informed choice. We want to give you, the consumer, all the knowledge you need to be completely satisfied with your electricity supplier. We’re confident that once you’ve seen the options we offer for customers in the D.C. area, you’ll agree that our fixed-rate energy plans can’t be beat. Check out our website to find out more about our plans; we’re always happy to help find the option that works best for you.