July 19 2007 by Ellen Roseman
The Ontario Energy Board has started a public relations campaign to educate consumers about their rights when it comes to signing contracts with gas and electricity marketers. The board has set up a website and hired a plain-language expert to make its six consumer tipsheets easy to understand.
I think such an educational effort is needed and I wonder why the board took so long to get started. From the complaints I get about energy marketers, I know that many people aren’t making an informed choice at all when they sign a long-term contract.
The only reason to lock into a fixed-price deal is peace of mind. You don’t know whether or not you’ll save money and you may pay a rate that’s much higher than the utility rate. But that’s the risk you’re taking. It’s a form of insurance.
But the sellers who go door to door promise savings, and may even guarantee savings. This makes their job easier when it comes to earning sales commissions. Some sellers also misrepresent who they are (for example, telling new homeowners they have to sign to get their gas or electricity switched on).
You’re not making an informed choice when you sign under false pretenses. And if you’re not careful, you may find your long-term gas contract has been automatically renewed when it expired. Gas marketers (but not electricity marketers) can roll over contracts without your express consent if they’re signed before July 31, 2005. Luckily, there’s a tipsheet on renewals that explains how they work.
I wish the board had undertaken a TV or radio advertising campaign on energy choices. This would reach more people. But for now, I guess a low-budget PR campaign is better than nothing.