What is a Competitive Energy Retailer?
In Alberta you have two main choices for your electricity and gas supply: to purchase your supply from a regulated rate provider, or from a competitive energy retailer. Even though Alberta retail energy markets have been open to competition since 2001, about 60% of Albertans continue to purchase their energy from a regulated rate provider. In this article we explain what a competitive energy retailer is, and why you might want to consider changing your energy supplier.
About Alberta's Retail Energy Markets
Almost all Alberta residents, whether they are purchasing energy for their home, small business, farm, or if they are an industrial customer, has a choice of their energy supplier. This has been the case since 2001, when Alberta electricity markets deregulated.
Who Can Sell Energy In Alberta?
Four main types of actors can sell energy in Alberta:
Some municipalities in Alberta own their electric and or gas distribution networks, and can sell supply to residents within their locality. Currently only the city of Medicine Hat and the city of Lethbridge sell energy within their respective municipalities.
Regulated Rate Providers sell electricity and natural gas at regulated rates in Alberta. Regulated rate providers have the exclusive right to sell energy at rates that are approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) within a certain utility (wires services provider for electricity, natural gas distribution utility for gas). They are investor-owned or municipally-owned private companies whose profits are regulated by the AUC. Most Albertans that consume less than 250 000 kWh of electricity or less than 2 500 GJ of gas.
Rural Electrification Associations (REA) are not-for-profit co-operatives that own the electrification distribution system within a certain rural region in Alberta and sell electricity to their members. Members of a REA do not have a choice of energy supplier, and must purchase their electricity from the REA. You can find out more about rural electrifications on the Alberta Federation of Rural Electrification Associations website.
Natural Gas Co-ops operate in a similar manner to rural electrification associations: they sell natural gas to their members and own the natural gas distribution system in their rural franchise area. Natural gas co-ops are also not-for-profit co-operatives, and members must purchase their gas from the co-op. The Federation of Natural Gas Co-ops provides more information about natural gas co-ops in Alberta, including a map of members.
Competitive energy retailers sell electricity and/or natural gas contracts to eligible Alberta residents, including homeowners, businesses, and farms. Their rates are not regulated by the AUC, but the retailers are licenced by Services Alberta and they are able to offer a wider variety of energy price options than regulated rate providers.
What is a Competitive Energy Retailer?
Competitive energy retailers are licenced by Services Alberta under the Fair Trading Act. They, like regulated rate providers, are responsible for purchasing energy supply on their customers' behalf, billing, keeping records and managing customer accounts, and for providing customer service. Unlike regulated rate providers, they are able to sell energy contracts at different prices and lengths to consumers, and provide more options to customers.
Competitive energy retailers may sell electricity, natural gas, or both. Some competitive retailers offer special rates for different types of consumers (e.g. for seniors, or non-profits), and others offer green energy.
Why Choose a Competitive Energy Retailer for My Energy?
The main advantage of considering a competitive energy retailer for your electricity or gas supply is for the opportunity to find an energy option that is best suited to you. Just because your local regulated rate provider exists as the 'default option' does not mean that it is necessarily your "best" choice. Competitive energy retailers offer you a wider range of options for your energy, allowing you to choose a contract that reflects your preferences. Maybe you are interested in green energy, or in finding the cheapest electricity or natural gas rate out there. Perhaps you want to support local Alberta businesses, or want to lock in a fixed rate for your electricity or your natural gas. Whatever your preferences are, taking the time to check out your energy options in depth is well worth it. Some competitive energy retailers also offer additional awards, such as free thermostats, air miles, or additional interest rate paid on your security deposit.
Whether you're unsure of how the Alberta energy markets work or what your energy supply options are, Callmepower.ca provides you with the information you need to make an informed decision about your energy. Check out some of our top tips if you think you're ready to start comparing energy suppliers!
Who Are the Competitive Energy Retailers in Alberta?
Up until fairly recently, only a few competitive energy retailers were present in Alberta: ENMAX, Direct Energy, and Just Energy. However, with the development of the Utility Network, many smaller, "boutique" competitive energy retailers have emerged in the market. While they are newer and much smaller than their well-established counterparts, many of the boutique energy retailers offer competitive energy prices and often propose specialized rates for certain groups. In May 2014, the Edmonton-based EPCOR launched a new competitive retail product, called Encor by EPCOR.
While the number of actors in the Alberta retail energy markets has grown recently, the largest competitive energy retailers remain (in order of market share)
How to Switch Suppliers
Switching energy retailers is usually quite a simple process. If you currently buy your energy from a regulated rate provider, you do not need to worry about paying cancellation fees (and even if you already purchase energy from a competitive retailer, you may not have to pay termination fees if you provide enough notice). To sign up with your new competitive energy retailer, you need to provide them with:
- Your full name and service address (as well as your billing address if it is not the same)
- Your phone number and email address
- Your chosen energy contract
Usually it takes between 10 to 15 days to switch energy suppliers, but can take longer (up to 90 days) depending on the specific retailer or the situation. Make sure to ask your new competitive energy retailer when you can expect your new service to start. In the meantime your energy will continue to be supplied by your previous provider. As your energy utility (local energy distribution company) remains responsible for delivering energy to your home, regardless of your supplier, your energy supply should not be interrupted when you switch.
I'm moving to a new address in Alberta. Can I choose a competitive energy retailer?
Most competitive energy retailers are able to start your service without you needing to be signed up with the local regulated rate provider first. Check out our how-to guide to setting up your electricity or gas service when you are moving to a new home in Alberta for more information.