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Who keeps calling me about saving money on my electric bill? How do I know if renewable energy suppliers are really using renewable energy?

“May I speak with the person who pays the electric bill?”

If you live in Pennsylvania, and you have a heartbeat, you’ve probably been asked some version of this question by a telephone caller or door-to-door solicitor eager to tell you how their company can save you money.

Despite the high-pressure sales tactics, these salespeople may be from legitimate companies. Pennsylvania has a partially deregulated electric market, which allows consumers to shop for cheaper rates and renewable energy sources. On the other hand, the market can also cause confusion and leave less savvy consumers vulnerable to scams.

Savings and scams

Pennsylvania residents can tell electric suppliers making unwanted phone calls not to call them any longer, and Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission rules require the supplier to comply, according to press secretary Nils Hagen-Frederiksen. If they keep calling, you can report them to the PUC.

Still, the commission encourages consumers to shop around and, depending on your situation, that company calling on the phone may actually be able to save you money, Hagen-Frederiksen said.

That said, shopping around means actually considering multiple offers. Consumers should resist high-pressure sales tactics that try to force you to sign a contract immediately, Hagen-Frederiksen said.

“You shouldn’t even feel pressured into making a decision right now, on the phone,” he said.

If you are uncomfortable, hang up and report information on the phone call to the PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services, which can be reached at 1-800-692-7380. Consumers can also fill out informal complaint forms online.

If you are considering accepting an offer, Hagen-Frederiksen recommends visiting the PUC’s electric shopping website PAPowerSwitch.com. The site allows you to enter your ZIP code and compare dozens of offers with the offer you were given. You can limit your search by length of the contract, fixed or variable price, and renewable energy. Every company listed on the PAPowerSwitch website has been licensed to supply electricity in Pennsylvania, he said.

He also warned customers to be wary of actual scams.

While Pennsylvania allows customers to choose which company supplies their electricity, it is still delivered to your home via a utility that operates poles and wires (in most of Cumberland County that is PPL or Met-Ed). Only that utility can threaten to shut off your power in certain limited circumstances, typically with advance warning.

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An energy supplier cannot ever stop you from receiving electric service, Hagen-Frederiksen said. If someone threatens that you need to sign a contract with their company or you will lose power, they aren’t telling the truth.

“The threat of termination really raises our antenna,” he said.

If you don’t choose a supplier, you will still receive default electricity from your utility.

Renewable energy

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One benefit of a deregulated electric supply market is that customers can choose to receive a higher percentage of their electricity from renewable energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal. Rather than promising a lower price, some energy suppliers attempt to persuade you to buy energy from them because they use renewable energy.

Such companies should provide you, upon request, with information on what types of renewable energy they use and whether it is generated in Pennsylvania or elsewhere, Hagen-Frederiksen said. Some renewable energy suppliers generate the electricity themselves, while others obtain it wholesale from another source.

It’s also important to understand what it means to purchase renewable energy. All energy produced goes into the electric grid, which is then distributed to consumers so the energy you purchased from, say, a wind farm isn’t going directly into your home, Hagen-Frederiksen said. However, it does mean the quantity of energy you consume is flowing into the electric grid from the renewable energy supplier and you are supporting that business.

Anyone who suspects a renewable energy supplier of making a false or misleading claim is encouraged to report it to the PUC.

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Daniel Walmer covers public safety for The Sentinel. You can reach him by email at dwalmer@cumberlink.com or by phone at 717-218-0021.