Working with energy retailers

September 28, 2009
Written by Michelle Vieira
In many provinces, you can choose your energy provider and set the price you will pay for your energy.

If you have never signed a fixed-term, fixed-price retailer contract for natural gas or electricity, you are buying your energy from the default option – your utility. You pay their price, which fluctuates on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis, and although you do not have to sign a fixed-rate, fixed-term contract, you are never entirely sure of the price you will pay for your energy in the upcoming months.

Energy retailers, also known as marketers, offer customers choice as well as the ability to secure a specific price for their energy and know what they are going to pay for energy over a specific period of time. This allows customers to budget operating costs more effectively, and to protect themselves against variable market prices. Large volume customers may also have the option to purchase index or market price gas.

DEREGULATED MARKETS HOME TO ENERGY RETAILERS
But not every province in Canada has licensed energy retailers. Only provinces with deregulated energy markets are home to energy retailers. Each province’s level of deregulation is different, so it is best to research your province’s rules and consumer rights before deciding to enter into a contract with an energy retailer.

When dealing with energy retailers, there are many things to be aware of to ensure that you protect yourself and/or your business, and that you understand the contract you are signing. Here are some “Dos and Don’ts” when it comes to doing business with energy retailers.

THE DOS
1. Be informed and be patient! When looking for an energy retailer, take time to visit the websites of a few different retailers to get a brief history of their company and review their prices. You can also do an online search for complaints or issues customers have filed about the retailer with your utility or a regulatory body.

2. Compare prices! There are good websites out there that are designed to help consumers. Some websites have information on prices in your area for both natural gas and electricity. Search the web or ask your local utility for their input. When looking at prices, pay attention to any other charges that may apply, such as transportation, as they can differ from retailer to retailer.

3. Know your rights as a consumer! Educate yourself about your legal rights as an energy consumer, and keep yourself informed regarding what retailers (including their employees) are legally required and/or permitted to do. Many provincial boards and commissions have regulated polices that you should be aware of and utilize. An example from Ontario is that all employees of retailers must identify themselves with their name and company name before discussing their offers with you.

4. Re-examine your contract! Prior to and after signing a contract, re-examine it in full. Some provinces have a 10-day window during which you can cancel your signed contract without a fee. These 10 days are to allow the consumer to carefully read and understand all contractual obligations.

5. Keep your records confidential until you are sure! Keep your bills confidential until you feel that you are comfortable with the retailer you are dealing with. Many quotes, estimates and options can be discussed based solely on your annual consumption and name of your utility. Your physical bill contains your account number and important information that should be considered as valuable as your social security number.

NOW, THE DON’TS
1. Don’t let yourself be pressured into signing! Rule of thumb: if you are being pressured into signing a contract, it’s pretty likely you’re not going to be satisfied. Remember that companies with door-to-door salespeople usually pay commission to their salespersons and have higher overhead costs, resulting in higher costs to you as the consumer.

2. Don’t hand over your bill to anyone you do not trust! Again, your bill contains important information that is legally required by the energy retailer to service your account.

3. Never sign anything without doing your homework! Never sign anything that you do not fully understand. Your signature is a very powerful thing, and is not to be used liberally. Once you sign a contract and the term begins, you are legally bound by that contract.

WEBSITE RESOURCES
These basic Dos and Don’ts will help you pick an energy retailer that will work for your best interests. Here are some informative websites you can visit to assist you in making a smart and knowledgeable decision:

www.energyshop.ca – Energyshop online price comparison.
www.oeb.gov.on.ca – Ontario Energy Board.
www.auc.ab.ca – Alberta Utilities Commission.
www.ucahelps.gov.ab.ca – Utilities Commission Advocate of Alberta.
www.bcuc.com – British Columbia Utilities Commission.
www.terasengas.com/choice – BC Marketer Information.
www.pub.gov.mb.ca – Public Utilities Board of Manitoba.

In the next issue we will be discussing the positive impact of engaging staff in your energy conservation initiatives.

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