The energy industry is a rather unique one in the United States, as customers have for the longest time not been given a choice in whose services to use. From the beginning of the utility industry, back in the days of Edison and Pearl Street Central Power Station, a single company would own and operate the energy generation and transmission equipment and customers would only be given the choice: receive power from this company or don’t receive power at all.
Given how quickly constant and reliable electricity became essential for a healthy, safe, and productive daily life, the result was monopolies and a lack of competition among energy providers. In capitalistic societies, competition is cited as the driver of innovation, customer benefits, and progress, so it became no wonder why later into the 20th century the utility industry was largely known to be filled with inertia and was consistently slow to change.
In the past few decades, though, American customers have slowly and progressively been given the option to switch energy suppliers as regulations and politics have changed to allow for competitive energy suppliers. However, those with the ability to switch energy suppliers are still in the minority across the United States, while those without such an option continue to fight for their right to energy choice.
In the meantime, though who is eligible? There are a number of criteria to consider:
What State Do You Live In?
The first indicator of note to find out whether you might be eligible to switch energy suppliers is based on the state in which you live. As noted in the below graphic by ElectricChoice.com, there are 17 states (and Washington DC) where switching energy supplies is an option:
For those in the blue states (Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, Washington DC), they may be eligible given the rest of the factors. But for states in white (the majority of the country), energy choice is not available at all.
What Type of Energy Do You Use?
As the above map’s legend indicates, the next determinant is based on whether you’re talking about switching gas supplier or switching electricity supplier, since they are covered by separate regulations. Some states allow a degree of choice in gas markets, some in electricity markets, and some in both. So if you are in a state that only has deregulated gas (such as Colorado) but the only energy you use in your building is electricity, then you are not eligible to switch suppliers.
What Type of Customer Are You?
Beyond that, states that do have a level of deregulation are not completely deregulated and there are case by case bases to consider. For example, New Hampshire’s natural gas choice is not offered to residential customers but only commercial/industrial customers. Conversely, California’s electricity choices is available to residential customers but it’s strictly limited by capping how many people can participate at a time. This delineation of which types of customers are eligible is broken down well by the Energy Choice Coalition.
How Much Energy Do You Consume and Other Factors?
Beyond just the type of customer, there are also some restrictions based on the size of the customer. The availability of switching gas suppliers in Texas is only present for commercial customers who exceed 3,650 million cubic feet of gas consumption per year, meaning only the largest consumers. In Virginia, as another factor, customers can only switch electric suppliers if they are seeking to go to 100% renewable energy and their current legacy utility does not have such an option.
How Do You Really Find Out?
These are just some of the confusion and sometimes complex factors that will determine whether or not you are eligible to switch energy providers. Across the United States, it’s truly a patchwork of policies and regulations, making it hard for even an industry veteran to keep track of it all. As such, the best option is to contact your local resources and do your homework. For customers in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Washington D.C. you may be eligible to choose Atlantic Energy as your energy supplier, but best to call Atlantic and talk through your options with us.