Rochester, N.Y. – Stuart Nicoll got a knock on the door Monday night from an energy service company.
The sales reps asked to see his RG&E bill and told him he would save money if he enrolled with their company.
“It wasn’t clear who exactly they worked for, what they were signing me up for, there was no mention for what their rates would be or anything like that,” Nicoll said.
Nicoll told them he had to do more research and compare prices. But it can be profoundly difficult for consumers to compare prices among energy service companies (ESCOs) and full service utilities.
Elliot Vos enrolled in an ESCO, but found shopping around mind-boggling.
“A lot of them didn’t even have good websites. It would be a number your could call and they would want to sign you up right away without telling you what prices there were,” he said. “I had to sort through 30 ESCOs, maybe five or six had prices published at all.”
The New York State Public Service Commission announced it is examining the ESCO industry
after discovering wide disparities in rates and services, as well as a lack of transparency. The PSC found many people pay more with ESCOs than they do with full-service utilities after introductory rates expire. ESCO rates are not regulated by the PSC.
The commission is exploring creating an online calculator for consumers to compare historical pricing data among ESCOs and full-service utilities. The Syracuse Post-Standard has reported extensively on efforts to make comparisons public.
“I think it’s fair for the consumer. If they want to shop around for the best deal, they need to be able to compare apples to apples,” said Nicoll.
The state has a website
listing ESCOs and promotional prices, but it doesn’t have historical data.
ESCOs and utilities have generally been against such price comparisons. They say information is a trade secret. They also say since ESCOs sometimes provide different services such as green energy or even furnace repairs, there’s no way to fairly compare prices. ESCOs also say they sometimes offer stable prices over time. Despite these concerns, the Retail Energy Supply Association said it welcomes the PSC proceeding.
Rochester Gas & Electric has not yet responded to our question about whether it supports online price comparisons.
The PSC is accepting comments on the issue through December 27. You can post a comment here.