If you’re willing to walk away in a negotiation, that’s a sign you’ve got some leverage.
That’s how you should approach competitive electricity offers.
Here are tips we compiled based on advice from the Office of the Maine Public Advocate and interviews of past customers.
Know what you’re already paying. Most customers receive what’s called the standard offer price, which regulators approve as a default option for customers every year. It’s like a blind date you may not know you’ve been on. That gets set up annually, starting Jan. 1.
You can call your utility to determine your current rate or find rate comparisons between the standard offer and competitive electricity providers at the “electricity supply” page of the Maine Public Advocate’s website.
Understand what the CEP is offering — not just price. Competitive providers can offer plans that change every month, called variable rates. The public advocate’s office advises avoiding those plans and making sure that contracts don’t eventually roll over into variable rates. So, make sure to ask not only whether the plan is variable or fixed, but also when the contract ends and what happens when it does.
Find out if there’s a termination fee. Some companies charge a fee for getting out of a fixed-term contract early. Ask about such fees and the amount. You can get out of a variable rate at any time, for a $5 fee, by calling your utility and asking to be switched back to the standard offer.
If you have buyer’s remorse, you have five days to back out. Competitive electricity providers are required to send customers their terms of service before officially signing them up. Those can come by mail, by email or be presented on a company’s website. Customers have five calendar days after receiving those terms to back out of a contract, either through verbal or written notification. Customers who get terms by mail have eight calendar days to exercise that right.
The Maine Public Advocate’s Office answers inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org and 207-287-2445. The Maine Public Utilities Commission’s consumer assistance hotline is at 624-3687.
Correction: A previous version of this story contained an outdated phone number for the Maine Public Advocate's Office.