Tips for Finding a Utilities Company

Customer choice, also known as retail choice, is the option given to some utility customers in the United States to pick their own energy supplier instead of having that choice made for them. In Virginia, many consumers are given the choice of their own energy suppliers for electricity and natural gas services. Virginia refers to the companies consumers can choose from as Competitive Service Providers (CSP). CSPs must be licensed by the State Corporation Commission (SCC) in order to be able to offer services to Virginia energy customers. The existence of these companies and the system allowing consumers to choose between them creates competition in the utilities marketplace that can greatly benefit consumers. Whichever service provider you choose, distribution and delivery of those utility services is provided by your local utility company, which remains what the SCC calls your local distribution company (LDC).

The main electricity utility providers available to Virginia customers are Kentucky Utilities also known as Old Dominion Power, Dominion Virginia Power and American Electric Power. The main natural gas utilities available for Virginia residents and businesses to choose from are: Virginia Natural Gas, Southwestern Virginia Company, Washington Gas Light (aka Shenandoah Gas Division), Roanoke Gas Company, Columbia Gas of Virginia, Atmos Energy and Appalachian Natural Gas Distribution Company.

Consider Virginia Energy Regulations

Virginia is deregulated for certain users of electricity and natural gas. In 2007, Dominion Power, the largest utility in the Commonwealth, convinced the SCC to suspend the right of most electricity customers to choose their own electricity provider. Electricity is still deregulated, however, for Virginia customers utilizing or aggregating greater than five megawatts per year of power and those opting for 100 percent of their electricity to come from renewable sources. Natural gas is deregulated for Virginia residential, commercial, industrial and small business customers of Washington Gas Light Company to allow customer’s choice of variable or fixed rates. Natural gas customers who do not choose their own provider will be automatically assigned to default service provided by their utility company. It is also worth keeping in mind that, in Virginia, it is against the law for your utility service provider to be switched without your consent.

Read the Price to Compare on Your Current Bill

Your current utility bill may contain information for you to compare prices. This information details the baseline price for services from that provider. You can then use that information as a benchmark to compare against that same information from other providers.

Call and Ask Questions

Do not just rely on the information you read about various CSPs on the web and in their mailed content. These are all promotional materials designed to highlight a company’s greatest qualities and downplay its worst aspects. To really get a feel for how well a CSP will serve your unique needs, call the company, speak with a person and ask how they would address your specific needs. Some of the questions you may want to ask include:

  • Whether the CSP is SCC licensed
  • Whether the price is fixed or if it adjusts, and if so, how
  • Whether any other fees are charged
  • How you are going to be billed
  • Whether any incentives or special offers are currently running
  • Whether a budget plan is available
  • With what sources the energy provided is produced
  • What other services the CSP offers

Read the Fine Print

Before you commit to switching to any new CSP, make sure that you read all the fine print, including the contract’s full terms and conditions. You want to make sure that there are no hidden charges, restrictions, limitations or other undesirable aspects of the agreement before you sign on the dotted line. Virginia energy regulations stipulate that you have 10 days after switching to a new CSP to change your mind about the provider without fear of penalty. However, after that period, you may incur a penalty if you cancel service with that CSP before the contractual term expires.

Seek or Form an Aggregation

Business associations, non-profit organizations, communities and individuals can form utility buying groups, known as aggregations, that allow their participants to receive lower rates on utility services from some CSPs by signing up with them in volume. In order to offer an aggregation in Virginia, the aggregator must also be SCC licensed.

Improve Your Credit

Utility companies may look up your credit information in order to decide what rates to offer you. In order to ensure that you get the fairest rate quotes possible, do all you can to build up your credit. Some utility companies may charge customers with poor credit or no credit a deposit for services, and, if you cannot come up with the deposit, they might require a letter from another person promising to pay your bill if you default on it, known as a letter of guarantee. Other companies may deny customers service, if their credit is low. If your spouse has a poor credit history with a utility company, you may still be able to order utility service from that company yourself, provided you can prove that the two of you were not living together when your spouse’s utility account went into default, you attest that you had never seen those bills and you paid the overdue balances on those bills as soon as you found out that they were past due.