How Do I Shop for Natural Gas in Pennsylvania?

How Do I Shop for Natural Gas in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvanians are no longer stuck with one-size-fits-all natural gas options

Natural gas deregulation in Pennsylvania lets you shop for the best natural gas supply plans in your area so you can choose the provider and services that fits your family’s life.

How Do I Shop for Natural Gas in Pennsylvania?

Instead of your local gas utility company dictating the terms and price of your natural gas service, you can shop around for the kind of service plan you want from the natural gas supplier you choose. Both residential and small business customers can purchase natural gas supply from a Natural Gas Supplier (NGS) or remain with the local utility.

No matter who you choose to supply your natural gas, your local natural gas utility will continue to deliver the gas to your home or business, so you’ll still receive safe and reliable service.

How It Works

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) enforces federal pipeline safety laws for natural gas pipelines, equipment, and facilities within the commonwealth. It also regulates both Natural Gas Distribution Companies (NGDCs) and NGSs. The PUC operates the natural gas choice website where you can shop for your natural gas service –  PaGasSwitch.com.

How Do I Shop for Natural Gas in Pennsylvania?

The NGDCs and the seven primary gas utility companies and their subsidiaries serve consumers throughout Pennsylvania. You many also hear people refer to an NGDC as a “local utility” or “Local Distribution Company” (LDC). Each of these companies sells natural gas to their customers at their cost — and they’re prohibited from making a profit on the gas commodity itself. Those companies are:

Each NGDC collects a distribution charge from its customers for delivering the gas through their pipelines running down your street and into your home. They are also responsible for metering and maintaining these gas lines. In other words, if you smell gas in your home or neighborhood, call your local utility – not the company that sells you gas.

If you’re not sure who your local utility is, go to PaGasSwitch.com and enter your zip code.

Understanding the Pricing for Natural Gas

How Do I Shop for Natural Gas in Pennsylvania?

If you choose to stay with your local utility and not shop for a competitive natural gas supplier, you’ll receive default supply service from your local utility. This default service includes a Purchased Gas Cost (the price of the gas itself), a Gas Procurement Charge (reflecting administrative costs for the utility to buy gas supplies), and a Merchant Function Charge (reflecting the utility’s uncollectable accounts associated with gas supply service).

This price is also known as the “price to compare” — meaning it can be used as a benchmark price to compare with offers from competitive gas suppliers in your area. The PUC approves prices for each local utility, and these vary from month-to-month depending on the market price of natural gas.

On the commodity markets, natural gas by itself is sold in dollars/MMBtu (million British thermal units). However, local gas utilities pass on their costs to their customers using different unit-pricing. Some utilities price natural gas in either cents per CCF (100 cubic feet) or dollars per MCF (1,000 cubic feet). Some utilities price their gas in Dekatherms (DTH). For example, UGI charges by CCF, Peoples Natural Gas charges by MCF, and Columbia charges by the therm (1/10 of a dekatherm).

The volumes compare this way:

  • One therm = 100,000 British thermal units (Btu), roughly equivalent to 1 CCF
  • One dekatherm (DTH) equals 10 therms or one million Btu (MMBtu)
  • One dekatherm = about one thousand cubic feet (Mcf).

If you already have gas service, you can find your monthly usage and unit-price on your monthly gas bills.

When a Natural Gas Supplier (NGS) sells natural gas to you, it’s delivered through the local utility’s distribution lines. PUC regulations require that retail suppliers must be well-capitalized and able to meet technical, managerial, and financial requirements to do business in Pennsylvania. All natural gas suppliers must be certified by the PUC. However, because Pennsylvania natural gas company rates are controlled by market prices, their prices are not reviewed or approved by the PUC.

Many suppliers offer additional incentives and reward programs to their customers. Competitive retail suppliers shop for the best natural gas at market prices all the time. By shopping competitively, retail suppliers can choose options to fix the natural gas and transmission delivery price to the city gate for specific length of time (for example, 12 months). They can also purchase gas based on the fluctuating market and transmission delivery prices. Or, they can use one buying strategy to hedge against costs from the other. All these options help keep their prices low.

That’s why consumers who choose a NGS and secure a fixed rate in advance of winter can avoid the volatility of your local utility’s monthly variable pricing and save money during bitter winter weather. The same logic applies to people who purchase fixed-rate plans before the summer heat arrives. In general, longer-term contracts allow you to avoid seasonal utility rate increases altogether.

Let’s Go Shopping!

How Do I Shop for Natural Gas in Pennsylvania?
Because nothing says “Quality Family Time” like shopping for natural gas online.

First, enter your zip code at PaGasSwitch.com. Depending on where you live, this could take you to a page asking you to select your local utility. Once you enter that information, the site will display a summary page of the offers in your area and your local NGS’s price to compare.

Click on the “Full Details” button to view a page listing the offers from all participating Pennsylvania natural gas companies, the first one being your local utility’s price to compare. You can also change your monthly usage setting (default is 850 CF or 75 therms) and list sorting preferences.

As you scroll down, each offer shows:

  • Supplier: The supplier’s name, linked to the supplier’s website, and a contact phone number.
  • Unit Price: Shown as $/CCF or $/therms, depending on your local utility.
  • Estimated Price per Month: Based on the supplier’s price and the monthly usage (set at the top of the page).
  • Price Structure: This will either show a fixed or variable-rate plan. Fixed-rate plans have a fixed price at a set term of service that can be for 3 month or up to 36 months. You may pay more when prices fall, but you’ll be protected when prices spike. Variable rates will change monthly depending wholesale prices, demand, and other factors. You might save money when prices fall, but you will pay more when prices spike.
  • Discount Available: Does the supplier offer discounts or incentives? This can include movie tickets, airline discounts, gift certificates, smart thermostats, and more. Keep these in mind when you’re shopping because these can really sweeten a deal for you.
  • Term Length: The length of time the agreement will be in force.
  • Cancellation Fee: The amount you will need to pay to end your service agreement early. Month-to-month rate plans usually don’t have one, while fixed rate plans do. Check if your current plan has a cancellation fee when shopping. This fee can be over $200, so you may want to wait until your current agreement expires before switching providers.
  • Term End Date: This shows how long your price will last, ending with the meter read cycle that includes the date shown.
  • Deposit Required: Depending on credit history, service providers may require a security deposit from new customers. Some providers allow qualifying customers to spread the deposit amount over three payments.
  • Introductory Price: If the plan has an introductory rate, special conditions may apply. Introductory rates are often very low for the first month only. Afterwards, customers are rolled over into a standard variable-rate plan.
  • Monthly Fee: Some companies charge monthly services fees. Double-check if these will apply to you.

Always ask questions before signing with a Natural Gas Supplier. Consider these three things when you shop for a Pennsylvania natural gas company:

  1. Price: Are the rates competitive? Is the company offering teaser rates that go up after your first month? How do the rates or plan compare with your local utility?
  2. Services Offered: How’s the customer service? Are the incentives good? How does the company rate?
  3. Financial Stability: Even though the PUC standards for each NGS is high, how financially stable is the company you’re considering? How long has it been in the energy market?

For even more shopping tips, check out the PUC’s Frequently Asked Questions When Shopping for Natural Gas

Comparing Terms of Service

It’s important to understand that prices, terms, and contract conditions vary between gas supplier companies, and that these will affect your natural gas bill. Be sure to read and compare each plan’s Terms of Service. The Terms of Service are the contract terms for a given plan, and they explain any additional fees, deposits, or other miscellaneous charges, such as paying by phone or online. You can also double-check the plan’s price structuring.

Let’s Sign Up!

How Do I Shop for Natural Gas in Pennsylvania?
Finding the right natural gas company for your home really can be a pleasant surprise!

When you do choose the Pennsylvania natural gas company that’s right for your home, you can switch by calling the electric supplier or by signing up online through the supplier’s website. Your new supplier will notify your electric utility of the change. When your first bill arrives, examine it carefully. The PUC provides an excellent bill guide to help make your energy shopping experience goes smoothly.

Right of Rescission

You have the right to change your mind or initially switch rescind (or end) the agreement with the supplier without penalty within three business days following your receipt of the agreement (this does not apply the renewal process). After three days, the change will be sent to your local utility to complete the process and they will send you a confirmation notice.

Your Rights as a Consumer

As a natural gas customer , you have rights:

  • Safe and reliable utility service
  • A clear and concise bill
  • Fair credit and deposit policies
  • Know how your utility bill is calculated
  • Check your utility bill for accuracyQuestion or disagree with the utility company

You have the responsibility to:

  • Pay your bill on time
  • Provide the utility access to its meter
  • Give the utility at least 7 days advance notice before you move or wish to have service discontinued

Ready to Renew?

You typically receive two notices before your contract expires: the first one at 90 days before your contract expiration date, and the second 60 days before. Both will explain your options:

  • If you stay with your current supplier, the notice will outline any changes in the terms of service for a new contract and prices.
  • You can switch to a new supplier.
  • You can choose default service from the local utility.

If you fail to respond to your NGS after you receive the second notice, they can renew your contract automatically (notifying you of any changes) and without your input about plan type. If you do choose to switch to a new provider, this process can take between three and eight weeks to complete, and it happens following your next meter read.

If you have problems with your service, contact your retail natural gas supplier first.

The Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate (OCA) represents all Pennsylvania energy consumers. Contact them if your issue is not resolved to your satisfaction.

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About 

Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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