Know the lingo when it comes to kilowatt-per-hour rates and minimum contract term lengths.
You don't have to be an energy expert to make informed decisions about your power bill. See the definitions for commonly used terms, acronyms and abbreviations.
Advanced Metering Device: A device used to record or communicate actual electric use during minutes, hours, days or weeks; needed for time-of-day, on-peak/off-peak or other billing rates. Also referred to as “smart metering.”
Affiliate: A company that is controlled by another or has the same owner as another company.
Aggregator: An aggregator is an entity, licensed by the Commission, that purchases electric energy and serves as an intermediary for a large number of consumers, bargaining on their behalf for electricity and related services. The group "aggregates" or combines customers into one large customer for purposes of negotiation, and purchases the electricity as a single customer for the group.
Base Load: The minimum energy level a company must provide to its customers on a constant basis.
Basic Services: Services necessary for the physical delivery of electricity service, including generation, transmission and distribution. The monthly customer charge is a basic service charge.
Broker: A firm, licensed by the Commission, that acts as an agent in the sale and purchases of electricity but never owns the electricity and typically does not own generating facilities.
Budget Billing: Most electric distribution companies offer budget billing, which allows you to pay a fixed amount each month. Budget billing averages bills out over 12 months, so each monthly bill will be the same amount until the total bill is paid. The company may adjust the bill four times a year, up or down, depending on the customer's use. Residential customers may contact their electric distribution company and request budget billing at any time.
Cancellation Provisions: A contract clause allowing a party to break a contract, sometimes with a penalty.
Chapter 14: Section of the Public Utility Code containing rules that apply to cash deposits; reconnection of service; termination of service; payment arrangements; and the filing of termination complaints by consumers for electric, gas and water. Chapter 14 is intended to protect responsible bill-paying customers from rate increases attributable to the uncollectible accounts of customers that can afford to pay their bills, but choose not to pay. Under the law, a customer can only establish one payment arrangement with the PUC. The electric utility has the discretion to offer more than one payment arrangement.
Chapter 56: Section of the Public Utility Code containing regulations that establish rules for payment of utility bills, requests for service, payment of deposits, billing, termination of service and complaint handling. These regulations are to protect residential customers of regulated electric, gas, water, steam heat and sewer companies in Pennsylvania.
Commission: The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) is the state regulatory agency that provides oversight, policy guidance and direction to public utilities. The PUC licenses electric suppliers - find more information about the Public Utility Commission.
Consumer Contract: The written disclosure statement of the terms of service between a customer and an electric supplier.
Consumer Education: Efforts to provide consumers with the skills, knowledge and understanding to shop effectively in the new electric market.
Contract Cancellation Provisions: A contract clause allowing a party to break a contract, sometimes with a penalty.
Customer Assistance Program (CAP): Provides an alternative to traditional collection methods for low-income, payment-troubled utility customers. Generally, customers enrolled in a CAP agree to make monthly payments to the utility based on household size and gross income. Customers make regular monthly payments, which may be for an amount that is less than the current electric bill for utility service. In exchange for regular payments, some companies may also reduce the amount consumers already owe. Besides regular monthly payments, customers need to follow certain rules to remain eligible for continued participation. Call your electric utility for more information. CAP customers should contact their electric distribution utility for information as to their ability to shop for competitive suppliers
Customer Assistance Referral and Evaluation Program (CARES): Helps customers with special needs find ways to pay their utility bills. Special needs include family emergencies, divorce, unemployment, or medical emergencies.
Customer Charge: The basic service charge to partially cover costs for billing, meter reading, equipment and service line maintenance.
Daily Peak: The greatest amount of electricity used during a certain period in a day, such as one hour, half-hour or quarter-hour.
Default Service Provider: This is typically the electric utility that provides generation services to those who do not choose another supplier, are unable to find a supplier willing to serve them, or no longer receive generation services from another supplier.
Demand: The amount of electricity customers use at any given moment or averaged over any certain period of time. It is a measure of the rate at which customers are using electricity.
Deregulation: See "Restructuring."
Discounts Available: A company may offer discounts to some customers, i.e. new customers, military, and senior citizens. These discounts are not required and will vary from supplier and supplier. Electric shoppers should check with the respective supplier(s) for further information.
Distribution: The delivery of electricity to your home or business. This includes local wires, transformers, substations and other equipment used to deliver electricity to end-use consumers from the high-voltage transmission lines.
Distribution Charge: Part of the basic service charges on every customer’s bill for delivering electricity from the electric distribution company to your home or business. The distribution charge is regulated by the Public Utility Commission. This charge will vary according to how much electricity you use.
Distribution Line: The local part of an electric system that delivers electricity to most customers.
Distributive Power: A packaged power unit located at the point of demand. While the technology is still evolving, examples include fuel cells, photovoltaic applications and in some cases wind power.
Electric Distribution Company (EDC): The public utility that provides facilities for the transmission and distribution of electricity to retail customers. Electric distribution companies are regulated by the PUC. Exceptions include building or facility owners or operators that manage their internal distribution system and supply electric power and electric services to occupants of the building or facility.
Energy Conservation: To reduce or manage energy consumption in a cost-effective and energy efficient manner.
Electric Generation Supplier (EGS): A person or corporation, generator, broker, marketer, aggregator or any other entity licensed by the PUC that sells electricity to customers, using the transmission or distribution facilities of an electric distribution company (EDC).
Fixed Price: An all-inclusive per kWh price that will remain the same for at least three billing cycles or the term of the contract, whichever is longer.
Flat Rate: A fixed charge for goods and services that does not vary with changes in the amount used, volume consumed, or units purchased.
Formal Complaint: A written dispute or disagreement about a utility problem filed by a consumer with the Public Utility Commission. A formal complaint is assigned to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who holds hearings to develop a record. After the hearings, the judge issues a decision. (See informal complaint.)
Generation: The production of electricity.
Generation Charge: The charge for producing electricity. Generation service is competitively priced and is not regulated by the Public Utility Commission. If you purchase electricity from an electric supplier, your generation charge will depend on the contract between you and your supplier.
Green Power: See "Renewable Energy."
Grid: A network for the transmission of electricity throughout the state, region or nation. The term is also used to refer to the layout of an electric distribution system.
Gross Receipts: The total revenue for a calendar year for all electric distribution companies and electric suppliers, which are derived from the sales of electric energy.
Hardship Funds: Provides cash assistance to utility customers to help them pay their utility bills. Hardship funds provide assistance grants to customers who cannot qualify for other financial assistance programs, or to those who still have a critical need for assistance when there are no other resources. The funds make payments directly to companies on behalf of eligible customers. Contact your electric utility for more information. Provides cash assistance to utility customers to help them pay their utility bills. Hardship funds provide assistance grants to customers who cannot qualify for other financial assistance programs, or to those who still have a critical need for assistance when there are no other resources. The funds make payments directly to companies on behalf of eligible customers. Contact your electric utility for more information.
Hourly Metering: See "Time of Use."
Index Pricing: A type of variable rate product in which the product’s price is tied to a specific index, such as the NYMEX, hourly prices in the retail energy market, or even a utility’s Price to Compare. The product’s price rises or falls whenever the index changes. Index pricing is more commonly offered to small and large commercial customers.
Informal Complaint: A dispute or disagreement about a utility problem filed by a consumer with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission's Bureau of Consumer Services (BCS). A BCS investigator reviews the informal complaint and provides the customer with a response to their dispute. Most responses are in the form of a decision that the customer or company can appeal. If an informal complaint is appealed, it becomes a formal complaint. (See Formal Complaint.)
Interruptible Rate: A special utility rate given to those who agree to have their service reduced or temporarily stopped as part of an agreement with their electric supplier. Circumstances for service interruptions can be periods of high demand or high cost periods of short supply for the utility and/or system emergencies.
Introductory Price: For new customers, an all-inclusive per kWh price that will remain the same for a limited period of time between one and three billing cycles followed by a different fixed or variable per kWh price that will be in effect for the remaining billing cycles of the contract term, consistent with terms and conditions in the supplier’s "disclosure statement".
Kilowatt (kW): (1) A measure of demand for power during a preset time--minutes, hours, days, months; (2) 1,000 watts. A 100-watt light bulb used for 10 hours is equivalent to a kilowatt.
Kilowatt-hour (kWh): The basic unit of electric energy for which most customers are charged in cents per kilowatt-hour. A kilowatt-hour is the equivalent of using ten 100-watt light bulbs for one hour.
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): A federal program that provides financial assistance to low-income households for home energy bills. The LIHEAP program provides both cash and crisis benefits. Cash benefits help low-income consumers pay for their home energy bills while crisis payments help meet emergency home energy needs. For more information, contact the Department of Human Services.
Low Income Usage Reduction Program (LIURP): Helps low-income residential customers lower the amount of energy used each month. Typically, the company may install energy saving features or make energy efficiency improvements in customers' homes to help reduce bills. Contact your electric utility for more information.
Load: The amount of electric power required to meet customers' use in a given time period.
Load Profile: Measurements of a customer's electricity usage over a period of time which shows how much and when a customer uses electricity. Load profiles can be used by suppliers and transmission system operators to forecast electricity supply requirements and to determine the cost of serving a customer.
Load Management: Shifting use of electricity from periods of high demand to periods of lower demand.
Marketer: A company, licensed by the Commission, that buys and resells electricity to consumers, but typically does not own generating facilities.
Net Metering: The means of measuring the difference between electricity supplied by an electric utility or electric generation supplier and the electricity generated by a customer with a qualified renewable energy resource, when any portion of the electricity generated by the customer’s system offsets part or most of that customer’s requirements for electricity. Net metering customers should contact their electric distribution utility to discuss their ability to shop for competitive service from a supplier.
Non-Basic Services: Services not required for the physical delivery of electric service.
Office of Consumer Advocate (OCA): An independent state agency that represents the interests of Pennsylvania residential utility customers before the Public Utility Commission in rate and service cases and before other state and federal regulatory agencies and courts.
Office of Small Business Advocate (OSBA): A state government office that represents the interests of small business consumers by participating in PUC rate cases and other state and federal regulatory cases.
Off-Peak/On-Peak: Blocks of time when energy demand and price is low (off-peak) or high (on-peak).
Options Notice: Suppliers send out an options notice at least 30 days prior to the contract’s expiration date. This notice includes the specific changes to the terms of service being proposed; information on new prices; an explanation of the customer’s options and how to exercise those options; the date by which the customer must exercise one of the options; the telephone numbers and website addresses for the Commission and the Office of Consumer Advocate (OCA).
Penalty Provisions: A contract clause allowing a party to break a contract, sometimes with a penalty.
Price Cap: A level above which regulated prices may not rise, sometimes referred to as a “ceiling.”
Price to Compare: Price per kilowatt-hour a consumer uses to compare prices and potential savings among generation suppliers.
Price Plan: Before entering into a contract, electric shoppers should know if the price per kWh is "fixed"" or "variable".
Provider of Last Resort: The company providing generation services to those who do not choose another supplier, are unable to find a supplier willing to serve them or for some reason no longer receive generation services from another supplier.
Public Input Hearings: Meetings where consumers provide input to the PUC on a particular case. The PUC hearings are often held in the utility service area. Sometimes consumers can point out problems with the quality of the utility's service, management or policies that could affect the outcome of a case.
Public Utility Code: The law which sets the powers and duties of the PA Public Utility Commission. It also sets many of the guidelines the PUC uses for utilities' rates and service standards. View the Pennsylvania Public Utility Code.
Public Utility Commission (PUC): The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) is the state regulatory agency that provides oversight, policy guidance and direction to public utilities. The PUC licenses electric suppliers but does not otherwise oversee or regulate suppliers.
Real-Time Pricing: Rates that reflect the actual moment by moment cost of providing electricity.
Regulation: A rule or law established by the federal or state government that sets procedures that a utility must follow.
Reliability: The providing of adequate and dependable generation, transmission and distribution service.
Renewable Energy: Resources used to generate electricity that are replaced naturally, or by mankind's contribution (municipal solid waste incineration and landfill methane). Renewable energy may include fuels and technologies such as solar photovoltaic energy, solar thermal energy, wind power, low head hydropower, geothermal energy, landfill and mine based methane gas, energy from waste and sustainable biomass energy.
Renewal Notice: Suppliers send out an initial renewal notice 45 to 60 days prior to the contract’s expiration date as a reminder that the contract is near the end date.
Resellers: Companies that purchase utility service from a wholesaler and resell it to consumers.
Restructuring: The reorganization of traditional monopoly electric service to allow operations and charges to be separated or "unbundled" into generation, transmission, distribution and other services. This permits customers to buy generation services from competing suppliers.
Rural Electric Cooperative: Customer-owned electric utility that distributes electricity to members and that receives lower-cost financing through the federal government. Rural electric cooperatives and most utilities owned and operated by cities, boroughs or townships are not regulated by the PUC. The PUC has no jurisdiction over these electric suppliers or the services they provide. For information about electric supply companies not regulated by the PUC, contact the Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association or your local municipality.
Securitization: A method of refinancing existing utility debt and equity, that results in lower financing costs which are passed on to the utilities’ customers.
Spot Market: A term used in the wholesale purchase of electricity by suppliers within the regional transmission organization.
Stranded Costs: A utility investment, such as in facility and equipment, that is not supported by market prices.
Supplier or Electric Generation Supplier (EGS): A person or corporation, generator, broker, marketer, aggregator or any other entity licensed by the PUC that sells electricity to customers, using the transmission or distribution facilities of an electric distribution company (EDC).
Sustainable: Renewable or sustainable energy systems are those systems which provide energy services to people without depleting resources, endangering the planet or compromising the ability of future generations to use the same energy services.
Terms of Service: Content of the agreement between a customer and a supplier.
Time of Use: Tracking or recording a customer's consumption during specific periods of time that can be tied to the price of energy.
Title 52: The section of the Pennsylvania Code that governs utilities.
Transmission: The movement of electricity from where it is produced to a local distribution system.
Transmission Charge: The cost for transporting electricity from the generation source to your electric distribution company. For most electric customers who select a new supplier, transmission costs will be included in the charges from your new supplier. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulates retail transmission prices and services. This charge will vary with your source of supply.
Unbundling: Breaking down electric services offered into parts so each part can be billed separately.
Universal Service: Policies, protections and services that help low-income customers maintain electric service.
Unlimited Usage Flat Bill: A plan that is a locked-in monthly price that is not based on kWh usage. This gives consumers unlimited electric usage at one steady rate that cannot change during the contract's term. See "Flat Rate" for additional information.
Utility Competition: Two or more electric suppliers offering the same or similar goods or services in the same market place.
Variable Price: An all-inclusive per kWh price that can change, by the hour, day, month, etc. according to the terms and conditions in the supplier’s disclosure statement.
Weatherization: Modifying a home or building to conserve energy. Methods include: sealing windows and doorframes with caulking or gaskets, installing storm doors and windows, and adding or increasing the insulation value.
Weatherization Assistance Program: Enables low-income families to reduce their energy bills by making their homes more energy efficient. Pennsylvania's Weatherization Assistance Program is administered through the Department of Community and Economic Development.
Wholesale Competition: A market where wholesale buyers can choose their electricity suppliers. Wholesale buyers, such as investor-owned utilities, municipal utilities, cooperatives and other energy suppliers, resell the electricity to their retail customers.
Know the lingo when it comes to kilowatt-per-hour rates and minimum contract term lengths.
Choose your current electric company to see a sample bill with the charges explained.