Maybe you’ve noticed that your electricity rates have been rising. Or maybe you haven’t. For many of us, electricity isn’t something we shop around for – we use the local utility and that’s it, end of story.
But in New England, most states give residential customers a choice: They can buy electricity from a publicly regulated utility, or from a competing retail provider.
And competition is supposed to lead to lower prices, right? Not in this case. According to data and analysis from the Energy Information Administration, on average, residential electricity prices in the U.S. are up 3.2% from last year, but in New England, prices are up 11.8%. And EIA gives New England’s utility structure as a possible explanation, noting that prices in New England are up for energy generation (which is competitive) but not energy delivery (which isn’t competitive).
If you’re having trouble keeping up, you aren’t alone. The path electricity takes from a power plant to your home outlets is complicated and filled with all kinds of political, technological, economic and environmental twists and turns. As Inside Energy has reported, electric utilities are in the middle of a sea change and are facing:
- a rise in grid outages over the past fifteen years due to aging infrastructure and increasing severe weather;
- distributed, residential electricity generation thanks to the affordability of rooftop solar technology;
- and the expansion of a policy called net metering that requires utilities to buy back electricity from customers.
All of these factors influence your electricity bill. (What are the rates where you live? Find out here.)
And, as Cassandra Sweet reported for the Wall Street Journal, as utilities look for new ways to ensure profits, they are turning to electric car power charging stations. Sweet writes,
As products from light bulbs to refrigerators become more energy efficient, U.S. electricity usage has gone flat. The prospect of more electric cars on the road—and plugged into power sockets when they aren’t—could revive demand for power.
This has caused conflict as some utilities, like San Diego’s, want to charge all customers a fee to pay for new charging stations – even though only the tiny fraction of customers who own electric cars will see the benefits.
So, when utilities are discouraging you from buying rooftop solar panels yet encouraging you to buy an electric car, one thing is clear: The way you get your electricity, and what you do with it, is changing.