Least favourite job, shopping for utilities

I’m not a shopper at the best of times but having to shop for electricity and gas is a complete annoyance. I will never forgive the dearly departed Premier Ralph Klein for deregulation and the ruse that this would bring in competition and lower prices for the “little guy” consumer.
My five-year contract with EasyMax is up and after searching providers on-line, I made progress only when I called the Utility Consumer Advocate Office and talked to a knowledgeable civil servant. Taxes well-spent to fund this office, but, of course, unnecessary prior to deregulation.
I learned it had nothing to do with seeking the best provider and best prices but rather deciding how much risk I was prepared to assume and in what form.
There were two choices: take the risk of month-to-month rate changes, or lock in for two- or five-year contracts at a fixed rate.
Much to my dismay, the Advocate’s Office showed me how I had been paying the lofty price of $0.08 per kilowatt hour (kWh) for five years even though electricity prices have been much lower than that for most of those years.
On the other hand, my contracted gas price was only marginally higher than the regulated variable rate.
Being a student of the collapse of energy giant, Enron, in the United States, I know it’s much easier to game electricity prices than gas prices.
Unfortunately for Alberta consumers we’ve been gamed since deregulation.
One example, in October 2015 power producer, TransAlta, settled on a $56 million fine for deliberately timing outages at their power plants to drive up energy costs.
I like to call it Enron Gaming 101.
Perhaps criminal charges for directors and chief executive officers would be a better deterrent than simply a fine.
But I digress, back to shopping. I decide on the regulated option, an emotional response to having been screwed over by the previous 5-year contract. There was no competitive choice. Enmax was my mandated electricity provider and Direct Energy my gas supplier.
When I called Enmax to cancel EasyMax, they immediately had all sorts of what I shall call “bribes” to keep me as their customer, including an offer of cold hard cash being applied to my future account.
I did suggest kindly that if they really cared about keeping me as their customer, they would have been taking care of me when I was their customer, not when I was leaving.
When I phoned Direct Energy to sign up for gas delivery they had to keep $200 of my money on deposit to ensure this new customer would pay her bills.
If they cared about customer service, a simple credit check would have made their deposit request totally unnecessary and laughable.
The deregulation of the utilities industry was simply an exercise to enrich the share prices of utility companies, enhance bonuses of their executive team and allow politicians to stroke industry leaders for future perks and appointments after retiring from government.
Since coming to power the ND government has made a number of changes to the operation of the electricity market.
They have also promised a ceiling price per kWh for regulated electricity this spring.
What a relief to actually have a government in Edmonton working for the people, rather than one catering primarily to the industry top dogs.

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