OHIO Electricity-choice plans benefit many, official says

The state consumers' counsel said there is still room for improvement in searching for an electricity provider.
COLUMBUS -- Many state residents are saving between $10 and $110 annually on their electric bills because of the year-old law that gives residents freedom to shop for an electricity supplier.
Robert S. Tongren from the Ohio Consumers' Counsel has released a report pointing out the benefits seen following the restructuring of the electric industry and pointing out areas that need to be changed. The consumers' counsel is the state agency representing the interests of residential utility customers.
"The bottom line is, 'so far, so good,'" Tongren said. "That's a good indicator of where we are."
Tongren's report shows that consumers in Northern Ohio are better off in a number of ways. While all is not perfect, Tongren said, he pointed out that it is better than it was at the start, when northern Ohioans were complaining of high electric rates. He said the state still has the next four years to complete the transition between a completely regulated industry to a totally competitive market.
Nancy Manecke at the Ohio Electric Choice statewide consumer education program said the group has also used the "so far, so good" phrase.
She said consumers can still switch, unless they are part of a community-based aggregate plan that locks them into a rate over a contract period.
Percentage of switchers: Across the state in 2001, about 600,000 residential customers, 15 percent of those eligible, switched electric suppliers, according to the report. All but 4,500 of those were customers previously served by a FirstEnergy company. In the Youngstown area, Ohio Edison is a FirstEnergy company. Of Ohio Edison's 895,000 customers, 152,000 -- 17 percent -- switched.
Tongren said the 600,000 customers who switched in Ohio compares with 530,000 in Pennsylvania, where electric choice has been an option for a longer time. He called the comparison a "huge indicator that we're on the right track."
A majority of those who switched lived in communities that have purchased electricity through aggregated community buying groups. Across the state, 158 communities have chosen to aggregate; they are all in northern Ohio communities served by FirstEnergy.
Tongren's report says that residents in aggregation plans are expected to save between 1 and 11 percent of their total bill. A typical customer who uses 850 kilowatt hours of electricity per month could save between $10 and $110 each year.
Additional savings: Consumers also saved in other ways, the report shows.
A second savings came through part of an agreement between the consumers' counsel, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and FirstEnergy, in which FirstEnergy has made a limited supply of low-cost wholesale electricity available to new suppliers who enter the market. A typical customer could save $100 per year under this type of arrangement, the report shows.
Third, customers who chose not to switch have received a 5-percent decrease in the generation portion of their bill. This provision of the law has saved customers $126.5 million statewide and $36 million among Ohio Edison customers. Tongren said other customers saved as well because competing companies were forced to offer rates below the reduced level.
Officials in Tongren's office encourage consumers to visit his Web site at www.pickocc.org or to call toll-free (877) PICK-OCC for further information.
Also, Manecke said, consumers can visit the Ohio Electric Choice Web site at www.ohioelectricchoice.com, for further information, including a listing of companies in various market areas and an "Apples to Apples" chart that helps consumers compare companies.

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