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Penelec customers seeing greater choice in electricity providers

Electricity deregulation has been a slow process in Pennsylvania, with many constraints on the market not lifted until the beginning of this year. But now GoErie.com reports that a strong competitive market has begun to emerge among Pennsylvania electricity providers, particularly for Penelec customers.

The state first deregulated its electricity market in the late 1990s, allowing customers to switch electricity suppliers for the first time. But, concerned about rising costs, state legislators chose to impose price caps on electricity rates from existing utility companies like Penelec that only expired at the start of the year.

These caps discouraged the development of a market, largely limiting most people's choice. With the caps being lifted, the number of electricity companies providing services to Penelec customers has quickly grown, reaching as many as eight by November.

Penelec has performed surprisingly well in the eyes of many analysts, offering competitive electricity rates for many of its customers even after the price caps were lifted. However, while savings with the newer electricity providers have been limited throughout much of the year, the difference has been growing.

In general, customers who switch electricity companies have been able to expect savings of around $5 to $6 per month to this point. While that still amounts to between $60 and $72 per year, many worry about making the switch. Though the only change comes to a single line on the bill, many customers have proven disinclined to make the switch. PAPowerSwitch.com reports that more than 1.54 million Pennsylvanian residents have changed electricity providers, but that only amounts to around 22.1 percent of residential customers.

The market has been steadily improving, however, with some households now seeing potential savings of more than $15 per month, particularly if they make use of electric heating. The Valley News Dispatch reports that Pennsylvania residents using electric heating are expected to see their costs rise only 1 percent over the course of the winter, as opposed to 10 percent for those using oil and gas.

Penelec has made a point of encouraging customers to shop around as well.

"We want all our customers to shop and to at least look at the offerings and prices from the suppliers. We believe it's in our customers' best interests to at least shop," Scott Surgeoner, spokesman for Penelec's parent company, Ohio-based First Energy Corp, told GoErie.

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