December 21 marks the official first day of winter in Canada, but as Albertans know, that date only counts on the calendar. By then, winter has already set in. We’re living with it.
When it comes to buying electricity or natural gas for your home, farm, or small business, it’s never too late to prepare for winter’s icy grip. You may have heard reports that prices will rise in the New Year, but have you taken a look at your bill to understand how your monthly charges work?
An energy bill consists of three basic items – how much energy you use, the rate you pay for that usage, and delivery charges that cover the costs of getting the energy from the source to you.
Your usage can change throughout the year, and is typically higher during the winter months when it’s colder and darker. Your chosen usage rate type is determined by market factors, and can also be impacted by cold and hot weather. Delivery charges are regulated, with a mixed of variable and fixed costs.
Keeping these factors in mind will help you choose the purchasing option that works for you.
In Alberta, you have options for how you buy electricity or natural gas, and you can take advantage of those options even after the weather outside turns frightful:
- By a fixed-rate contract – customers pay a set unit price for natural gas or electricity for a certain period of time.
- By default – paying regulated rates, month-to-month, with no term attached. For electricity, this is known as the Regulated Rate Option (RRO); for gas, it’s known as a default plan.
- By variable/floating rate contracts for a certain period of time – rates are based on the wholesale price the retailer paid for the electricity or natural gas, plus a transaction fee that varies.
If you prefer price stability for electricity and natural gas, you can choose to lock in your rates and enter into a contract for a fixed price with a competitive retailer. If you prefer price flexibility, you can opt for the RRO for electricity and the default plan for natural gas (as noted above), or for a variable/floating rate contract.
If you’re still not sure which option is best for you, don’t worry. There’s help.
The Utilities Consumer Advocate (UCA) at Service Alberta helps Albertans make informed choices for electricity and natural gas. If necessary, the UCA also serves as a mediator between consumers and their service provider. Created in 2003, the UCA has a mandate to educate, advocate, and mediate for residential, farm, and small business electricity and natural gas consumers. Last year, the UCA mediation team helped more than 20,000 Albertans looking for information or assistance related to their electricity or natural gas services.
Albertans can visit https://ucahelps.alberta.ca, or call 310-4UCA (310-4822), to find out more about your options for buying electricity and natural gas, for winter energy saving tips, or if you have questions about your utility bills. The UCA website also features a Cost Comparison Tool to compare rates and retailer products based on your actual consumption or estimated consumption.