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Shopping for an independent gas supplier? Know the contract

Date: 
06/26/12

Agreeing to purchase a service can be complicated – whether you are signing a lease to a new apartment, buying a car or natural gas to heat your home. As the number of retail natural gas suppliers in Ohio has increased, budgeting for utility costs is no longer a simple matter of paying your monthly utility bill. Now, you have choices.
 
The Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel website, www.pickocc.org, offers weekly charts for Columbia Gas, Dominion East Ohio, Duke Energy and Vectren customers who want to comparison shop for natural gas alternatives. Each chart includes a list of offers from independent natural gas suppliers certified to do business in Ohio, as well as contact and contract information.
 
Among the first and most important things you need to remember is that buying your natural gas from a private supplier is quite different than receiving service from a regulated utility company. The supplier sets the price for the service it provides, as well as the terms and conditions of the contract.
 
You need to have clear and understandable answers to the following questions before entering into a contract with a retail natural gas supplier:
 

  • Is the price offered a fixed or variable rate? What is the difference?
  • Is there a fee to sign up?
  • Is there a fee to switch if I decide to go back to my local utility company or switch suppliers?
  • What date will I begin receiving service from the supplier?
  • When will the supplier's charges appear on my bill?
  • How long is the agreement?
  • Is there a fee to cancel my agreement?
  • What happens if I decide to move before the agreement expires?
  • Will the agreement automatically renew at the end of the contract period? If so, at what rate and for how long? Will I be notified that the contract has renewed?
  • Will I receive two bills (one from the supplier and one from my utility company), or just one bill?
  • If I have a billing problem, whom should I contact?
  • What are the terms and conditions of the agreement? (Always obtain a written copy.)

Make sure you have all of your questions answered before completing any contractual arrangement and ALWAYS keep a copy of your signed contract on hand.
 
If a salesperson comes to your home, ask to see a name badge. Solicitors are required to show a valid photo identification badge issued by the supplier. They must explain that they are not employees of the utility and clearly explain the details of any document they ask you to sign. In ALL cases, keep your billing and account information private.
 
Choice can give you the ability to control your natural gas costs, but being an educated consumer is the best way to make sure you get the best bang for your energy buck.
 
Reposted with permission from the Ohio Consumers' Counsel. Marty Berkowitz, author. Original article:
http://www.pickocc.org/news/2012/newsletters/may.shtml#story3
 
 

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