Since we began in 1980, the Interfaith Coalition on Energy (ICE) has helped hundreds of religious congregations control their energy use and cost. In 1996, The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) deregulated PECO Energy and other Pennsylvania utilities. This allowed third parties to sell electricity and natural gas supplies while PECO still maintains the pipes, wires and meters that deliver energy to each customer.

While this was supposed to lower the price of electricity and gas, there have been a declining number (now less than one third) of PECO customers taking advantage. In large part, they became aware that PECO changes its prices every three months. If a customer settles on a fixed price with a supplier, a lower price from PECO means they lose money on their deal with third party energy vendors, particularly during periods of extremely hot or cold weather. Having reviewed many PECO invoices, we know that third party customers often pay higher prices than PECO’s.

Each PECO invoice explains that their charges for electricity and natural gas are exactly what they pay for. How then, can third party vendors make a profit? One way is to purchase energy from lower cost suppliers. Another way is to charge more than PECO charges, explaining why there are hundreds of such third party energy companies in Pennsylvania.

They can offer gift cards and other promotions. They can hire call centers and door-to-door sales people. The PUC clearly states that such agents must prominently display identification badges with the agent’s photo, full name, ID of the supplier and its phone number. Each agent must make clear that he or she is not a PECO employee. Personally, most agents that have knocked on our door do not do any of this. They object when I copy down their name and company to report them to the PUC.

An alert PECO customer will study each invoice to determine if the price charged by a third party vendor is lower than what PECO would charge, which is shown on each residential invoice as the estimated “price to compare.”

Concerning the hundreds of religious congregations that we have served since 1980, PECO’s price to compare for commercial accounts is often not accurate. Each congregation that is interested in third party energy needs to have someone who knows PECO’s rates and prices, an accountant that can understand PECO invoices, and a lawyer who can read the fine print of multi-page proposed third party contracts. This is a rare combination, but when it exists, a congregation can save money on third party energy, at least for three months at a time.

Let the buyers beware.

Andrew Rudin

Project Coordinator

Interfaith Coalition on Energy

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