Group explores expansion of energy deregulation


DOVER — Delaware deregulated energy in 1999, meaning residents were no longer forced to buy their power from one company at a set price. Instead, they can reach out to other suppliers and potentially save money.

But after 16 years, just a small percentage of Delawareans take part in the program.

During the previous General Assembly session, Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, requested insertion of language into the bond bill forming a committee to examine an “opt-in electricity affordability program.”

Colin Bonini

Colin Bonini

A panel of state officials and representatives from energy companies met Thursday to discuss the state’s low participation. At the workshop, attendees discussed obstacles potentially discouraging Delawareans from shopping for other energy options.

According to Delmarva Power’s Todd Goodman, 13 percent of Delmarva Power customers take part in energy choice.

The state is a challenging market, representatives from several different companies said, due in part to its size. Between municipalities and Delaware Electric Cooperative, a map of potential customers resembles “Swiss cheese,” Public Service Commission Deputy Director Matt Hartigan said. That lowers the incentive for companies to aggressively market themselves in the state.

That’s not the only factor.

“Let’s call it what it is. People are generally lazy. They’re not going to pay attention to anything on their utility bill except what’s on that bottom line that they have to write a check for every month,” said Public Advocate Dave Bonar, whose job it is to represent Delawareans’ interests in the energy industry.

David Bonar

David Bonar

“They don’t care whether they shop, they don’t care whether it’s green energy, they don’t care whether it’s a gift from God, as long as they can write that check and as long as they can pay that bill, they don’t care.”

Changing that attitude could require a great deal of effort, he said, describing past attempts to spread knowledge about deregulation.

“We’re going to have to change the culture of the consumer in the electricity business,” he noted.

While some disputed that only price matters, there was a general consensus it is a very important factor.

One of the most successful states in promoting customer choice is Pennsylvania. The state developed a comprehensive website allowing residents to compare prices from different companies in one place, and several individuals said Thursday they feel a resource like that would be a boon to consumers.

During the discussion, heated debate broke out between Sen. Bonini and several energy representatives.

Delmarva Power is in full support of third-party suppliers, Mr. Goodman said while expanding on customer choice. Sen. Bonini quickly jumped in to dispute his claim.

“The status quo cares very strongly about not changing this,” Sen. Bonini argued.

Energy company workers were quick to push back, protesting they had done nothing to resist change and actually stand to benefit from more customers switching to third parties.

Several people appeared incredulous at Sen. Bonini’s claim Delmarva Power had fought efforts to promote choice, although he insisted (“Abso-freaking-lutely”) it had happened.

Mr. Hartigan managed to steer the conversation back on track, and attendees shifted to discussing Delawareans’ motives for choosing whether or not to take part in electricity choice.

“I work in this industry,” said Deputy Attorney General Regina Iorii. “I know that perhaps if I went to Constellation or one other … various supplier clients, that I might be able to save money. But it’s not important enough to me.

“I don’t have the time to spend looking for that. It is worth it for me to pay whatever, a couple of cents more per kilowatt if it’s that — it probably isn’t — to not have to do that, and I don’t think I’m the only person like that. So some people just don’t care, and you can have all the education in the world for those people and they’re still not going to care.”

The group met for more than two hours. Sen. Bonini said afterward he is hopeful the “broken” system can be fixed and rates can be lowered through customers buying from third parties.

The same group is set to gather again Thursday to discuss possible solutions.

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