Tagged In: , ,

How can I get affordable, renewable energy right now?

Several AEP Ohio and FirstEnergy customers are noticing news headlines and company emails warning of high prices this summer. This information is raising anxiety and questions about what consumers can do to insulate their bills from these rising prices. Below are some common questions and answers to help consumers. 

Here are the major takeaways:

  • Reliance on fossil fuels, like natural gas, have resulted in volatile prices as the energy system is strained by supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine. 
  • You have a choice over your energy provider, and tools to help you navigate this process. 
  • The energy marketplace includes several renewable energy options.

You can use your voice to oppose utility charges by signing up for updates from the OEC, filing public comments, and attending public meetings.

Energy Shopping FAQ:

Q: I have seen a lot of news about electricity prices going up, will this affect me? 

A: Due to rising costs of natural gas, the price of your energy will likely go up this summer. While auction results for Duke and AES Ohio are not yet public, if you are a FirstEnergy or AEP Ohio customer, and you are receiving the default energy option, the price of your energy WILL go up this summer.

Ohioans have multiple options for their energy. The most common options are:

  • the utility’s default option
  • purchasing from a different company, or
  • your city purchasing your energy for you through an aggregation program

If you are on the default option provided by AEP Ohio or FirstEnergy, your energy prices WILL spike this summer. If you are on the default option for AES Ohio or Duke, the summer prices have not yet been announced, but you may also see a price spike this summer.

The big electric distribution utilities that transport electricity to your home (AEP Ohio, AES Ohio, First Energy, and Duke) also provide customers with a default energy option to power that electricity. This default option is called the standard service offer (SSO)

At different points in the year, the big utilities hold auctions where energy suppliers bid to provide your energy needs. The utility selects the bidder it thinks is most financially stable, reliable, and is offering a good price. Then, the utility will charge any customers who have not opted for a different service the price of the utility’s selected bidder. The timing of these auctions are usually selected years ahead of time on a set schedule.

These auctions are susceptible to the geopolitics, supply chain, and other financial conditions present at the time of each auction. When AEP Ohio and First Energy held their latest auction in March 2023, markets were skittish with inflation woes, supply chain concerns, and the ongoing war in Ukraine. As a result, energy prices were high. 

Q: How do I know if I am getting my utility’s standard service offer (the default option)?

A: You can find this information on your energy bill. 

Your energy bill will have information on your energy generation source. You should look for a section labeled “energy company,” “generation service,” or “generation supplier.”

AEP Ohio’s website provides two examples of how your bill will look depending on your energy generation source. Several sources show example images for First Energy, Ohio Edison, and the Illuminating Company bills to show where you can find your energy generation source. 

NOTE: If you are a Columbus, Ohio resident and have not opted out of the city’s aggregation program, you are getting a renewable energy product and will NOT be affected by the rate hike from the March standard service offer (default) auction.

Q: If I am on the standard service offer (the default option), can I choose a different energy provider? 

A:  Yes!

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) provides a resource for comparing your different energy generation sources called “Apples to Apples: Electric.” You can follow the following steps to review your options: 

Step 1: Hover over the residential energy option and choose your utility company

Step 2: At the top of the page, you can check the current price of the standard service offer (the default option), which the PUCO calls the “price to compare.” This price is set to go up for AEP Ohio and First Energy in June 2023. 

Step 3: Review the chart of options for an energy source of your choice. Some information you should pay particular attention to, in addition to price, is: 

  • Rate type: You typically want to choose a rate that is fixed instead of variable. A fixed rate means that the price you sign up for is the price you pay for the entirety of your contract. A variable rate allows an energy company to offer you a very low introductory rate, and then hike up your price after you have committed to a contract. 
  • Term Length: This shows how much time you will need to commit to buying this energy source. If you are planning to move outside of the utility’s service area within the next 12 months, you may want to avoid a generation source that requires a 12 month contract. 
  • Monthly fees: If a company has a low price per kilowatt hour, but has a high monthly fee, it may not be the best option. 

Step 4: Follow the company URL to get more information on how to contact that company and switch your energy source. 

Q: Can I choose a renewable energy source? 

A:  Yes!

The PUCO’s same Apples to Apples comparison tool allows you to view the amount of renewable energy the company uses. You can sort by total percentage of renewable energy content, or even limit search to suppliers only offering renewable energy.

NOTE: If you are participating in your city’s aggregation program, like the one in the City of Columbus, you may already be receiving a renewable energy option. It is a good idea to check with your city to see if you are enrolled in a renewable energy aggregation program before switching to a different energy provider. 

Q: Someone told me shopping for energy was a scam?

A: Like any service, the quality of the product and company can vary. It is very important to compare your options.

While shopping for a responsible energy provider with an effective energy generation mix is a tool that puts power back in the hands of consumers, it is important to ensure you are reviewing the terms of your contract. A lot of companies pay employees to walk door to door or hang out at your local supermarket and sell you their energy service. These salespeople often promise much cheaper energy prices. However, just like when shopping for energy on the Apples to Apples website, you should pay close attention to the terms of any energy service contract. 

If someone approaches you trying to sell you energy service: before signing up for their services, take their information and compare it to what is on the PUCO’s Apples to Apples website. You can ask:

Is this rate fixed or variable? (Reminder: A variable rate allows the company to offer you a much lower price than your current service to start and then hike up the price once you are in a contract.)

What are the monthly fees?

How long is the contract?

If I need to cancel my contract, is there a cancellation fee?

Q: What if I am already struggling to pay my utility bills?

A: You may be eligible for bill payment assistance or rebates for energy efficiency devices. 

Two ways to limit your utility bills are by reducing your usage or applying for assistance. Customers struggling to pay for basic needs, like utilities, may be eligible for assistance programs like HEAP or PIPP. If you are not eligible for these programs, you can still reach out to your utility company and see if you can negotiate a repayment plan. 

The Inflation Reduction Act provides funding for technology that helps limit your utility usage. To see what rebates you may be eligible for, visit Rewiring America

Q: Okay, now I know how to take control of my energy generation service. How do use my voice to oppose transmission charges?   

A: You can sign up for updates from the OEC and attend the PUCO’s public interest meetings when available. 

You can sign up to receive updates from the Ohio Environmental Council to hear more about our work to fight for utility affordability, energy efficiency, and equity here

Whenever a utility wants to raise its rates, it first has to ask the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) for permission. When this happens, you can file public comments and attend public meetings to make your voice heard. For example, Columbia Gas of Ohio is currently asking the PUCO to raise its fixed monthly charges to unprecedented levels and gut energy efficiency programs. Over 350 OEC members commented against the plan, and the PUCO is currently reconsidering the rate hike. 

As AEP Ohio generation service is set to go up this summer, it is also asking the PUCO to charge customers more for its generation service too. As part of this application, the PUCO will hold 5 public meetings to get public feedback across AEP Ohio’s service territory. The first meeting is April 13th in Findlay, Ohio. The final meeting will be May 23rd in Columbus, Ohio. Sign up for OEC’s newsletters to receive updates on the public meetings occurring in Columbus.