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Central Ohio Consumers Weigh Electric Choice

After fits and starts for the past 13 years, deregulation of Central Ohio's electricity supply is taking hold. Customers have choice. At least seven electric supply companies now compete for business in what was once a region served almost exclusively by American Electric Power. Consumers are keeping close watch on the changes and weighing their options. "Everybody can speculate about how how it's going to work. But until it happens and gets put into effect, we don't really know." Says Zack Glick. Glick is a third shift cook at Fitzy's 24 hour diner on Schrock road. Like many consumers he's saddled with high electric bills. "Any given month, with air conditioning in the summer it can go as high as 300 dollars and then in the wintertime with gas heat on it's usually about 15o. Now, six years ago when I first moved in the average bill in the winter was 80 bucks." Says Glick Glick is looking for some relief from high electric bills. But, whether a deregulated electricity market helps Glick remains a question. Amy Kurt at the Ohio Consumers'Counsel says Ohio is de-regulating only the power supply, not the poles and electric lines strung through the neighborhood. "So it's the actual electrons of electricity that are being delivered through those lines into your home." Kurt says that makes for a complicated electric bill. A bill generally identifies five separate charges but only the generation charge, the price per kilowatt hour, is now set by a competitive market. "If you lose money or if you save money that is part of the risk of energy choice or energy competition." Says Kurt. The Consumers'Counsel lists seven electric suppliers now offering eleven different rate plans in central and southern Ohio. Its up to consumers to ferret out the best offer. Glen Patterson of Columbus lives in an all-electric home on the north side. He says it takes a little time and attention to detail to find the best rate. But, he recently decided to change electric suppliers to escape what he called an "outrageous" electric bill. "At the time I was paying something like anywhere from 180 to 200 dollars a month for electric. I went to both of them then it didn't drop much because I was paying AEP so much and I was paying Direct Energy so much. But I will know something after the first of the year when they break off." Says Patterson. Patterson anticipates less fluctuation in his monthly electric bill under his new plan. And, he says he chose a plan that allows him to change again at anytime with no cancellation fee. Such fees are also part of deregulation. Like cable and phone plans, electric plans can come with termination fees. Public Utilities Commission Chair, Todd Snitchler, urges consumers read the fine print in electric contract offers to know of possible risks. "What the offer is, what the terms are. Do you have a cancellation charge? What's the rate going to be? Is it an introductory offer. Is it for the entire term of the contract? Snitchler says the PUCO still must approve electric suppliers to Ohio and monitor their conduct. Back at Fitzy's Diner, Zack Glick says he's taking a wait and see approach on de-regulated electricity markets. "Eventually, it could be a good thing right off or it could be like OPEC again in the 70s where everyone conglomerates together and says you're going to pay this price or tough." Adds Glick.