Giving Albertans a choice in their electricity provider started with several measures in the late 1990s. However, it wasn't until 2001 when customers received the ability to choose their electric supplier.
Your distribution utility (like Atco, Enmax, or Epcor) no longer owns power plants to generate electricity, and merely delivers energy to your home or business. Your utility no longer furnishes your electricity supply.
Instead, you have a choice in buying your electricity supply. You may choose from several competitive providers, or you may be served by the "Regulated Rate Provider." For residential customers, the regulated rate provider charges a "Regulated Rate Option," which is a price that fluctuates month-to-month, and starting July 2009, is based 80% on the wholesale market price for electricity, with 20% blended from other supply contracts. That makes the Regulated Rate Option volatile and means customers can experience large swings month-to-month in pricing. Starting in July 2010, the Regulated Rate Option is to be 100% based on the monthly price for electricity.
For commercial customers, the regulated provider merely passes through the wholesale price of electricity from the Alberta Electric System Operator, and is also volatile.
Choosing a competitive electric provider allows customers to lock-in a set electric price for a year or longer, giving them certainty and avoiding risk. When choosing a competitive provider, customers are still served by their same distribution company over the same wires, and still call their utility for power outages.
In 1996, Alberta reformed its natural gas industry to offer all customers a chance to shop for lower natural gas rates, with several additional changes in 2003.
Now, consumers can choose who they want to buy their gas from. The local distribution companies, such as Atco Gas and AltaGas, have reformed their business structure to open their pipes to competing supplies. Customers choosing an alternative gas supplier will still have their gas supply delivered by the local utility, but customers will be buying their gas supply from a new company.
A customer's natural gas bill has been separated into two parts:
- Regulated distribution of gas, which is still only provided by the utility, and
- Supply of the gas commodity, which is open to competition.
If a customer does not choose an alternative gas supplier, they receive their gas supply from their regulated provider. In some cases, this may be the same company as the delivery utility (like AltaGas), but in some cases, a special regulated provider is selected by the government, while the utility only handles delivery.
Regardless of who the regulated provider is, they all charge a price for gas supply that changes every month, and can be very volatile. Customers can avoid wild monthly swings in the gas supply charge by contracting with an alternative gas supplier.
No matter who you choose to buy energy from, your local utility will continue to deliver your gas and respond to service interruptions and outages.
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