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Switching suppliers can benefit businesses

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In early February, Pennsylvania surpassed 2 million homeowners and employers using a competitive supplier for their electric service. Just three years ago, as the last of the long-term rate caps on electricity supply expired, only about 337,600 electric customers were using a competitive supplier or shopping.

Shopping for an electricity supplier to serve your business' needs has never been easier. As a starting point, you can visit and within minutes view competitive, money-saving offers from any number of suppliers. It is exciting that two out of every five small businesses within the commonwealth have already shopped for their electricity and are saving money right now.

Switching electric generation suppliers is easy to do, and can save businesses hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars a month. For example, in Central Pennsylvania, Wolf Furniture has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by combining shopping for electricity with energy-efficiency upgrades. In 2010, savings for energy costs alone for Wolf's stores in the PPL territory was $84,000. Shopping for electricity combined with energy-efficiency improvements has resulted in companywide savings of more than $200,000. Those are all dollars that go directly toward Wolf's bottom line.

Prices are only one indicator of the health of a competitive market. The number of options available to consumers — including those low-income customers participating in customer assistance programs — is an equally important determinant. Competitive electric generation suppliers in Pennsylvania are bringing a variety of products and services to customers, as well as help with energy efficiency and a mix of contract lengths. In fact, consumers also have "choice" when it comes to picking green products, such as wind and solar.

While we are proud of the market that has developed under careful watch of the PUC, consumer advocates, suppliers, the utilities and others, I am joined by the other PUC commissioners in a commitment to providing a framework that will allow that market to continue to grow. Hitting the milestone of 2 million shopping customers is not the end of our story. Almost six years ago, the commission began zeroing in on the hurdles Pennsylvania would face with the expiration of long-term rate caps. The commission took pro-active measures and avoided much of the rate shock that electric customers in other states suffered.

The PUC and the legislature took action then and the PUC, with input from consumer, utilities, supplier and environmentalists, is now taking action to ensure the retail electric market's long-term viability. On Feb. 14, we unanimously made changes to help consumers better reap the benefits of a competitive electric retail market. However, in finalizing our two-year retail markets investigation, we recognize that more work needs to be done to ensure the robust competitive market that we currently enjoy continues.

Through our actions and proposed legislative changes, the PUC seeks to protect and enhance the market's long-term viability for the benefit of consumers. The utility is retained as the default service provider and all consumer protections are maintained. The consumer protections include security of customer information; reporting requirements for quality of service benchmarks and standards, as well as universal service and energy conservation; standards for changing a customer's electricity generation supplier; marketing and sales practices for the retail residential energy market; and standards and billing practices for residential utility service.

It is the commission's responsibility to try and create a structure where consumers enjoy competitive prices and a wide variety of innovative product offerings, and where competitive electric suppliers invest in Pennsylvania. The PUC remains diligent and proactive in overseeing Pennsylvania's electricity market.

Robert F. Powelson is chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

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