Greenhouse Canada

Features Energy Procurement
Working with energy retailers


September 28, 2009
By Michelle Vieira

Topics

In many provinces, you can choose your energy provider and set the price you will pay for your energy.

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.

Advertisment

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.