Last updated: August 25. 2013 12:55AM - 1240 Views

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LIMA — With Ohioans having the option to choose their own utility service supplier, more and more people are looking to roll the dice.

For others, energy companies are seeking potential customers. They send out letters, make phone calls, and even go door-to-door to present their offers to residents. Through this sometimes confusing process, not all locals have had the same kinds of experiences.

“I have had two in the last week and switched both times because they offered me a better deal,” said Jessie Jacobs, in response to a Lima News Facebook question. “But did I get a better deal?”

“Gas people were nice, professional and saved me money both times,” said Mary Sockrider, on Facebook.

The biggest aspect of choosing an electric or natural gas supplier is to be educated about it.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has an “Apples to Apples” website users can use to make an informed decision, at http://j.mp/10ET2jD.

There, residents can determine what’s most important when purchasing energy, whether it’s the most affordable most flexible contract, or taking advantage of green initiatives, such as wind energy.

Lima resident Mary A. Wilkin did her homework when it came down to making a decision, using the online tool.

“Read the details carefully and it looks like a better deal, call the utility or enroll online. Kind of stunned the guys who came to my door when I told them that’s how I made my choice,” Wilkin wrote on Facebook.

The options can provide flexibility for a resident. The website lists contract lengths, various price rates, and in some cases, what kind of energy is provided.

“It gives consumers a lot more control as far as their pricing options go,” said Jack Keegan, PUCO director of public affairs. “Some consumers might like it because they can fix their price over several different years. … Some people like that insurance, other people like to have the lowest rate.”

Keegan said most people are, in fact, looking for the most affordable option. In order to figure out what’s cheapest, there are a few things on your current electric and bill statements to compare to offered rates from other companies.

“The first step is figure out what your current rate is from your current utility. On the electric side, that’s called the price to compare, and you have to look for those words on your bill,” said Amy Kurt, director of public affairs of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel. “On the natural gas side, if you have chosen to purchase your bill through your local utility, that standard rate is called the standard choice offer, or the SCO.”

Ohioans have technically been able to choose their own utility supplier since 1999, when a state law passed that allowed it. However, it hasn’t gained momentum until recently for a few different reasons.

“I think there was a bit of demand,” Keegan said. “Energy prices have gotten to the point where companies feel like they are comfortable with offering a lower price than what they’re currently able to get from their utility company. I think that’s one major thing. … And I think it took just a little bit for that market to develop with companies coming into Ohio, and feeling comfortable with engaging residential consumers.”

When the law first passed, it primarily affected business owners. Now, according to AEP Ohio, 381,000 residential customers in the state have made the switch to other energy suppliers. While residents who have switched still receive bills through AEP Ohio, the rates may be different, or use specific sources of energy, depending on what their supplier contract dictates. There are more than 20 different offers available to AEP Ohio customers; 1.5 million AEP Ohio customers throughout the state.

While there are benefits with flexibility, it’s also important to be educated about the supplier contract, particularly if there’s an auto-renewal clause.

“The thing that consumers need to be aware of is, what happens after that contract is up?” Kurt said. “Some of these contracts include auto-renewal provisions. So if you’re not paying attention, and 12 months goes by and you’ve forgotten that you signed up with this energy provider. … After that contract ends, there could be a clause in that contract that says they can auto-renew your contract at a different rate.”

And if residents don’t choose? They would simply be receiving utilities from their current suppliers, mostly from AEP Ohio and Dominion Gas East in the region.

Those who want to learn more about this process can attend an event at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Lima Public Library, where a Public Utilities Commission of Ohio representative can answer any questions.

Jason Gilham, PUCO deputy director of public affairs, said the key is to inform the public about their options.

“We want residents and small business, we just want them to feel empowered, and we want them to feel confident with the decision that they make,” Gilham said. “We just want to make sure that when they get a telephone call or someone shows up at their door, or if they receive something in the mail, that they feel confident in the information that they’re getting, that they understand it, and they know what to do with it so they can make a choice that’s best for them.”

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