With the approach of colder months, when businesses and households use more electricity, utility companies are seeking big increases in residential electric rates.
National Grid, which serves thousands of customers in the Attleboro area, last month filed filed with Rhode Island state regulators for a 53 percent increase in its standard offer service rate for residential customers beginning in October.
The company has not yet petitioned Bay State officials for a rate increase, but a hike seems likely beginning with bills starting in November.
A National Grid spokesman said a rate request likely would be forthcoming in September. And while the company has made no formal announcement, the spokesman noted that rates generally go up in winter.
For the period running through Oct. 31, the company offers regular residential service to Massachusetts residential customers at a fixed rate of 9.432 cents per kilowatt hour.
That’s the rate the company charges for the energy it supplies consumers, not including distribution and other costs.
With the possibility of a big rate increase on the horizon, some consumers may be considering switching to one of several competitive power suppliers licensed to do business in the state.
But those exploring optional suppliers face a dizzying array of choices, more than a few gimmicks and a variety of rates including some plans that may save little or even cost more than their existing supplier. Some may even expose consumers to even higher costs down the road.
But alternative suppliers also offer varying mixes of energy sources that allow homeowners to select “green” power generated by solar panels or wind turbines.
For instance, Mass. Gas and Electric currently advertises a residential rate of 8.94 cents per kilowatt hour. But that’s on a month-to-month basis and could go up at any time.
NRG Homepower offers a higher rate of 12.94 cents per kilowatt hour for three-month, fixed-rate plans that include, among other things, an option to include a $50 donation to Boston Children’s Hospital or 10,000 free bonus miles on American Airlines.
Nonprofit Mass Energy Consumers Alliance offers two renewable energy source plans that take their power from a variety of water and windpower projects within Massachusetts, including a wind turbine located at St. Mary’s Abbey in Wrentham.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, any customer of an electric company in the Bay State can choose to purchase electricity from an approved competitive supplier. However, that option is not open to customers of local municipal electric plants.
Customers can decide to purchase electricity from competitive plans at any time, usually by signing up on a web site.
Service usually begins at the next meter reading date.
Fixed rates are usually guaranteed for anywhere from 3 to 12 months.
If a customer is dissatisfied with a competitor’s service, they can switch back at a later date.
Additional details as well as a list of competitive suppliers can be found at the web site energyswitch.gov.
Consumer advocates say customers should evaluate plans based on cost, a length of contract they are comfortable with and whether special features — like supplying electricity made from renewable sources — are a priority to them.
Potential customers also need to be on the lookout for false promotional claims, sizeable termination fees and other abuses that have plagued the electric service market.
In 2015, a competitive energy supplier named Just Energy was forced to pay $4 million over alleged deceptive practices including false savings claims and unauthorized switching of accounts from other suppliers to Just Energy.
For a list of frequently asked questions and answers about competitive electric supply, visit mass.gov/ago/doing-business-in-massachusetts/energy-and-utilities/competitive-electric-supply-faqs.html.
Lists of competitive energy suppliers can be found at: energyswitchma.gov and www9.nationalgridus.com/masselectric/business/energychoice/4_supplier_list.asp.