Energy providers and utilities – these two terms seem to be used interchangeably in several resources pertaining to electricity and natural gas utilities. Surprisingly though, they aren’t the same. Consumers will often confuse these terms in deregulated markets – this is because, in deregulated energy markets, consumers are able to choose their own provider.
In regulated energy markets, utilities own and operate all electricity – often there will be only one local electricity company.
Below, we’ll go into the difference between these two terms as well as common questions that are associated with this subject, such as how utility companies charge customers and who to call in specific situations.
Utility Company vs Energy Retailer: What’s the difference?
Below, we’ll detail the difference between a supplier and a distributor, as well as the difference between utilities and providers.
In deregulated provinces like Alberta, there’s a set utility company for each service and region. Consumers can’t choose their local utility, but they can choose their energy retailer. For example, if you live in the Edmonton region, you can sign up with any electricity provider, but your utility is still going to be EPCOR, as the company is responsible for the distribution and transmission of power in the area.
A wire services provider (WSP), also known as the utility, are the companies responsible for transmission and electricity distribution – they move energy from generators to your home. To make it clear, the utility serves as the distributor.
On the other hand, a retail energy supplier refers to the company that sells energy to you – you can think of electricity and natural gas as products: the retailer is the company that sells you those products for a specific price.
What will change on my energy bill if I switch retailers?
When you switch energy retailers, the only changes on your energy bill you’ll see are admin fees and energy charges (whether for electricity or gas.)
Admin fees or administration charges refer to the amount that energy providers charge customers in order to cover billing and customer service costs.
Energy charges refer to the amount that an energy provider charges your property based on your consumption for the previous billing period. It is usually charged in ¢/kWh (for electricity) and $/GJ (for natural gas.) These do not include the costs of transporting electricity or natural gas to your home or business.
Who do I pay for my electricity and gas?
On your monthly energy bill, the distribution and transmission costs go to the local utility while the energy retailer receives the supply charges and admin fees.
When should I call my utility company?
You should call your utility company for any of the following issues:
- There’s a problem with your power meter.
- For reporting a gas leak, downed power lines or other emergencies of similar nature.
- You’re experiencing an unexpected power outage, gas leak or other issue of similar nature.
When should I call my energy retailer?
You should call your provider or retailer for any of the following issues:
- You have questions or disputes over billing.
- You want to make a payment over the phone.
- You want to change plans or services.
- You want to change your service address.
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