Oct. 06--Buying electricity used to be so easy: PSNH turned on your account, and you paid them whatever state regulators said they could charge.
But as the solicitations in your mailbox attest, deregulation changed all that. A half-dozen different companies will sell us power these days at various rates, for various time periods. What's a confused consumer to do?
Two MIT grads hope you'll use their site, ShopEnergyPlans.com, which officially launched Tuesday , to compare competitive electricity providers in New Hampshire.
"We wanted to build a tool to help people make sense of the choices," cofounder Andre Ramirez said.
The process is straightforward: Plug in your ZIP code and it will show you some alternative plans, comparing them to PSNH's default rate and indicating whether they offer a "green energy" option. It also answers a lot of questions, such as whether PSNH will cut your power if you switch (answer: no), why delivery payments still go to PSNH (to cover the cost of the transmission system, mostly) and the difference between fixed and variable rates.
There's even a musical video explanation for the YouTube generation.
The site is still a work in progress, however.
Because it requires the participation of vendors, not all options are shown: As of Friday, information from Nashua, for example, lists plans from Glacial Energy, NextEra and PPG, but not ENH, PNG or FairPoint Energy, to name some of the more prominent electricity providers for homes. Also, it shows only 12-month plans, not shorter or longer options.
Give them time, Ramirez said.
"Some suppliers have their reasons" for not participating, he said, but he hopes that the lure of being part of a portal for customers would win them over. To broaden the site's appeal, it includes description, in words and videos, about the deregulated energy market.
"Suppliers should want to be able to educate the consumers, and be transparent as well," he said.
The company doesn't charge providers to be listed and to be connected to the database, but ShopEnergyPlans gets a referral fee if somebody signs up through them.
Ramirez and partner Chris Gaudet met at the Sloan School of Business in MIT, and first developed a site that allowed consumers to fine out information about electric vehicles.
That led them to the electricity market, which has been upended in New England recent years by record-low prices of natural gas because of shale gas flooding the market.
Because natural gas powers the plants that generate more than half of the region's electricity, this has lowered electricity prices, providing an economic incentive for competitors to undersell PSNH.
A majority of PSNH's large commercial customers have switched to competitors, and roughly one-fifth of residential homes have signed up with PSNH alternatives.
The switch is easy -- the same wires deliver the same electricity, PSNH will still answer repair calls, and you get just one bill each month.
The lower rates cover only the "energy charge" portion of the bill, which makes up about one-third of the total cost.
Most consumers save less than $15 a month when making the change.
Ramirez and Gaudet live in California now. ShopEnergyPlans was launched in New Hampshire mostly because of the MIT connection and the fact that Gaudet grew up in Wolfeboro and still has family there, giving the duo an eye on the state's market.
They plan to expand to other states, probably starting with Maine and Massachusetts, which share many of our alternative providers.
David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).