Utility customers can check out choices

Local Dominion Energy customers may have gotten a notice in the mail stating that they can opt to lock in a fixed price from supplier Dominion Energy Solutions without fees for canceling. This is just one of many marketing items that customers may be seeing from different suppliers heading into the winter heating season.

Matt Schilling, media contact with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, said customers can shop around for both natural gas and electric suppliers. A supplier is separate from a utility company, which in Washington County is Dominion Energy.

“We actually have a website, energychoice.ohio.gov, where people can go and compare rates. If you see it on our website, you know they’re legit because the suppliers are required to be certified by PUCO and must agree to their offers being listed on our site,” he said.

Many of the 64 natural gas suppliers currently listed on the Energy Choice website have special offers for those signing up for the first time, much like cable companies.

One offer from Dominion Energy Solutions waives any fees for early termination of the contract. They are offering a fixed rate of $3.50 per Mcf through August 2018. The offer expires Sept. 1. Schilling said customers can also use the website to comparison shop electricity suppliers.

Rick Peoples, clerk for the Washington County Commissioners, said offers from suppliers usually end up in the trash because the county has a multi-year agreement locked in with Constellation Energy Gas Choice.

“Our contract for natural gas goes from Aug. 1 (2017) through July 31 of 2019,” Peoples said.

“Tom Bellish of Buckeye Energy Brokers, Inc., in Akron helps us by shopping different providers to find the best rate for the county.”

That rate is for the county government, not for individual residents.

Buckeye Energy Brokers works with both the county, since 2011, and the city of Marietta, since 2006, to lock in the cheapest natural gas aggregation rate. They also work with them to determine an electric supplier.

The company works strictly with cities, counties and commercial clients but Bellish said that now is the time for individual consumers to jump on a “soft” market.

“Early fall is probably the best time and I would say residential customers should try to lock in a rate of $3.33 (per Mcf) or better,” he said. “They really need to look though because they could be subject to a hefty cancellation fee, some as much as $100.”

The lock-in rates and offers change regularly, so consumers are advise to check often.

Bellish also said that rates should remain fairly stable because of the market and the mild weather, unlike 2014 when a polar vortex gripped much of the Midwest, causing prices to rise to as much as $5.60/Mcf in the winter.

Of course, energy choice is exactly that: a choice. Schilling said customers need to opt in and if they do nothing, a supplier and a rate will be chosen for them.

At a glance

Current and historic natural gas rates (per Mcf – a unit of measure)

¯ 2017: August – $2.969, April – $3.175, January – $3.880

¯ 2016: August – $2.622, April – $1.853, January – $2.392

¯ 2015: August – $2.906, April – $2.610, January – $3.619

¯ 2014: August – $4.238, April – $5.014, January – $5.007

¯ 2013: August – $4.059, April – $4.752, January – $3.954

Source: dominionenergy.com

On the web

¯ Compare natural gas and electric suppliers at energychoice.ohio.gov.

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