The Norman Transcript

Nation/World

August 17, 2013

Power companies offer free days

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

Power providers use fleets of pushy door-to-door sales people, pop-up-booths in malls and tens of thousands of mailed flyers to sign up customers. But it can be difficult to get people to switch because most people don’t think about electricity unless they lose it, and the cost of electric bills isn’t a major concern.

“It’s not like an entertainment purchase where you can see the reward,” says Bruce Stewart, chief marketing officer for Constellation Energy, the retail arm of Exelon Corp.

U.S. power prices have been mostly flat or declining since the mid-1980s, adjusted for inflation. A typical residential customer spends $110 per month on electricity. That’s one-third the average amount spent by a family on gasoline.

Power providers have only had success attracting customers in the past when electricity prices are falling sharply because they can offer a quick, obvious savings compared with what the traditional utility offers. But now that 60 million customers have digital meters, they can offer plans that help customers save money based on how and when they use power, not just with a cheaper price.

Direct Energy ran a simple, silly TV advertisement pitching its free power day that included a woman blow-drying her golden retriever — why not, if the power is free? Oklahoma Gas & Electric offers a plan called “SmartHours” that offers lower rates to customers who cut back on power usage during hot summer afternoons, along with a thermostat that can adjust itself based on electricity prices.

“To differentiate yourself you have to craft a product that makes things easier,” says Bill Massey, a former federal energy regulator now at the Compete Coalition.

Companies are offering pre-paid electric plans that, like pre-paid mobile phone plans, can be cheap and include no sign-up fees or deposits. Customers get text and email alerts when they’ve used most of the electricity they’ve paid for. By paying attention to their use they use less, which lowers their bills further. Prepaid customers can have their power cut more quickly, though, if they have trouble paying for more electricity. In Texas, for example, if a prepaid balance falls below a certain level, power can be cut in as little as a day after the power provider issues a warning.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Nation/World
  • Air Algerie jet crashes with 116 on board

    OUAGADOUGO, Burkina Faso — An Air Algerie jetliner carrying 116 people crashed Thursday in a rainstorm over restive Mali, and its wreckage was found near the border of neighboring Burkina Faso — the third major international aviation ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Very bad week: Airline disasters come in a cluster

    WASHINGTON — Nearly 300 passengers perish when their plane is shot out of the sky. Airlines suspend flights to Israel’s largest airport after rocket attacks. Two airliners crash during storms. Aviation has suffered one of its worst weeks ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Hong Kong firms on edge as democracy rally blockade looms

    HONG KONG — As activists vow to shut down Hong Kong’s financial district in protest at China’s attempt to hobble democratic elections in the city, businessman Bernard Chan is preparing for the worst. Chan’s investment company has added ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Planes with Ukraine bodies arrive in the Netherlands

    KHARKIV, Ukraine — Two more military aircraft carrying remains of victims from the Malaysian plane disaster arrived in the Netherlands on Thursday, while Australian and Dutch diplomats joined to promote a plan for a U.N. team to secure the ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Iraq elects new president as attacks kill dozens

    BAGHDAD — Iraqi lawmakers elected a veteran Kurdish politician on Thursday to replace long-serving Jalal Talabani as the country’s new president in the latest step toward forming a new government. But a series of attacks killed dozens of ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Doctor fired back at gunman

    DARBY, Pa. — A doctor grazed by gunfire from a patient who had entered his office in a suburban hospital’s psychiatric unit stopped him by returning fire with his own gun and injuring him, authorities said....

    July 25, 2014

  • UN school in Gaza caught in cross-fire

    GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A U.N. school in Gaza crowded with hundreds of Palestinians seeking refuge from fierce fighting came under fire Thursday, killing at least 15 civilians and leaving a sad tableau of blood-spattered pillows, blankets ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Tornado slams Virginia campground

    CAPE CHARLES, Va. — The sky turned black and cellphones pinged with emergency messages. Moments later, a tornado ripped through a sprawling, carnival-like campground Thursday, snapping dozens of trees and flipping over RVs....

    July 25, 2014

  • Arizona inmate dies two hours after execution begins

    PHOENIX — A condemned Arizona inmate gasped and snorted for more than an hour and a half during his execution Wednesday before he died in an episode sure to add to the scrutiny surrounding the death penalty in the U.S....

    July 24, 2014

  • 48 dead after Taiwan plane crash

    TAIPEI, Taiwan — Family members of victims of a plane crash were flying to the small Taiwanese island today where the plane had unsuccessfully attempted to land in stormy weather, killing 48. There were 10 survivors, and authorities were ...

    July 24, 2014