The Best Pennsylvania Electricity Companies
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Deregulation seeks to drive down costs and spur innovation by breaking up energy monopolies. In their place, two separate entities take care of 1) generation and 2) distribution. Electric Generation Suppliers (EGS) create electricity and set their own prices for consumers. Electric Distribution Companies (EDC), a.k.a., your local utility company, bring that electricity to your home.
In Pennsylvania, you can choose from the EGSs operating in your area, or stay on with your default provider — your EDC. Currently, less than half of all Pennsylvania’s residential customers have made the switch. If you’re among that number, moving to an EGS could get you cheaper rates, better rewards, and more say in what fuels generate your electricity. Whichever you choose, your electricity will get to you just the same because the EDC is always responsible for delivery.
Because price and availability are always changing, there’s no single best provider for everyone. Instead, we explored the plans, pricing, and fine print of five top Pennsylvania suppliers — we’ll walk you through the math and show you what to look out for, so you’ll know how to compare your local options and choose the plan that’s right for you.
Electricity in Pennsylvania 101
Before we dive in, know that there are two major decisions you’ll need to make to choose the plan that’s right for you: price structure and contract term length.
Price Structure: Do you want a fixed or variable rate?
Fixed Rate: The energy market is volatile, as is the price that your retail generator pays to create, store, and transport electricity. A fixed rate protects you from these fluctuations by locking in one steady price for the duration of your contract — ideal for those who like to budget.
Fixed rates may seem higher upfront, but they typically average out over the length of your contract, because energy prices rise over time. Contract lengths range anywhere between six months and three years, and companies typically charge a fee if you opt out early, between $50 and $150.
Variable Rate: With a variable rate, you stand closer to the fire. Rather than keep your costs separate from market conditions, you experience the rise and fall of price alongside your provider. You profit when supply exceeds demand, but could pay through the nose if the electricity grid becomes overtaxed. That usually means a higher bill in the summer and winter (when demand is at its highest) and a lower one in the fall and spring. A variable rate plan is best for people interested in staying on top of market changes – when prices get too exorbitant, there’s no contract and no cancellation fee if you want to try a new provider.
Contract Term: How long do you want your plan last?
Variable rate plans are always month-to-month, save for three-month intro specials in which your rate stays the same for those early months. Fixed rate plans, on the other hand, are available for periods ranging from six to 36 months. The contract lengths, and how that length influences the price per kWh rate, varies enormously from company to company. Some companies offer lower rates when you enroll for longer periods. Others raise the rate slightly. The competing rationale: You will be paying them for longer so you get a break, or you have that price locked in when energy rates inevitably rise. One rule of thumb — the longer the contract, the higher the cancellation fee.
How We Found the Best Pennsylvania Electricity Companies
As you shop, you’ll see the rates advertised in terms of kilowatts per hour (kWh) — the energy used to power 1,000 watts for one hour. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average price per kWh for electricity in Pennsylvania is 14.52 cents, while the Public Utility Commission's “price to compare” currently hovers around 8.0 cents. Clearly, there’s a lot of price variety out there. And, given the hundreds of providers doing business in Pennsylvania, exploring electricity options can be pretty toilsome.
We’ve done some of the work for you. We homed in on five of the biggest electric companies in Pennsylvania: Constellation Energy, Direct Energy, FirstEnergy Solutions, Green Mountain Energy, and Just Energy. We compared their plans, rates, special offers, and philanthropies, then dug into the contract fine print to uncover sneaky fees and the truth about discounts. Because most providers offer a range of options, we also looked at the companies behind the plans — paying attention to their corporate impact, customer service reputation, and customer resources in particular.
When we talk about the fine print, we’re talking about the Rate Plan Summary. That’s Pennsylvania’s standardized document for electricity plan information. This is where you’ll find the price per kWh and the cancellation policy. We pulled the nitty gritty plan info out of the summaries to help us compare plans and fees.
When we looked at each provider’s offerings, we focused on plans with innovative pricing or attractive deals, then did the math to find out which would pay off over time. To our surprise, the results were all over the board. Green plans weren’t always more expensive than their traditional counterparts. Sometimes a fluctuating variable rate is still cheaper in the long run. Our takeaway: It pays to shop around. We’ll walk you through our analysis — so you can do the same as you compare rates.
A quick note: We based our calculations on 1,000 kWh monthly usage — the average for residential customers. To get a more accurate estimate of what you could end up paying, find the total kWh usage on your previous electric bills, then multiply each provider’s quoted rate by the amount of energy you use.
Pennsylvania Electricity Company Reviews
Highest Customer Satisfaction
Green Mountain Energy’s track record of eco-friendly initiatives trump just about every other energy company that claims to be pulling for the environment. In fact, J.D. Power gives it five out of five power circles for Corporate Citizenship.
Green Mountain has been behind massive green power projects like supplying the Empire State Building with renewably-offset power, and its nonprofit organization Sun Club provides grants for environmental projects, like Urban REAP (Urban Renewable Energy and Agriculture Project), an innovative community greenhouse that uses solar power, aquaponics, and composting.
Just as impressive: Its overall J.D. Power score for customer satisfaction. The 1,000 point score considers price, communications, corporate citizenship, enrollment and renewal, and customer service. At 709, Green Mountain Energy scored the highest of all Pennsylvania companies, well above the 669 state average, and a solid 20 points ahead of the next closest provider we looked at — Constellation.
Know that Green Mountain’s cheapest advertised plans are all variable rate plans. “Pollution Free,” “Pollution Free Try 3,” or “SolarSPARC 10 Try 3” all advertise a great initial rate — a full cent below Pennsylvania’s 8.49 cent “price to compare” — but its variable rates means the company can raise them at any time. The two “Try 3” plans just lock in the low introductory rate for three months instead of one. The flipside of fixed rate: Should prices fall, you’ll be locked into a contract with a constant, elevated rate for two more months.
Variable rates jump around, swelling one month and reducing the next, anywhere from a sliver of a percentage to a slice. These changes don’t occur randomly — they follow the wholesale electricity market and the balance of supply and demand. (Demand is highest in the winter when more homes are running their furnace)
The good news about variable rate plans: They’re month-to-month, meaning you hold no contract and can ditch at any time without penalty. If you keep on top of regional wholesale costs, you’ll know when rates are about to rise and can switch plans.
So which plan type is cheaper for you? That requires some math. As an example, let’s look the cheapest variable-rate plan Green Mountain offers, “Pollution Free,” alongside the fixed-rate version, “Pollution Free Reliable Rate”.
We know that electricity rates are slated to rise by about three percent next year. If we allow for seasonal electricity grid changes (historically, about a 1.0 cent difference between the height of summer and the depth winter), we can approximate the total expense of the fixed rate versus variable rate plan after one year.
Variable rates could cost less in the long-run.
|Pollution Free (Variable)||
Pollution Free Reliable Rate (Fixed)
|Energy rate||6.90 cents per kWh + 0.3 cent increase every 3 months||7.90 cents per kWh|
(rate x 1,000 kWh per month)
|$69.00 + $3 increase every 3 months||$79.00|
|Total after 12 months||$810||$948|
With moderate fluctuations taken into account, the variable plans is still cheaper. Our bill is approximately $10 more in the winter, but we’d still save $138 over the course of a year. It’s more a question of whether you can roll with the punches of an unpredictable rate, or would sleep easier knowing your bill is going to look the same month after month.
Affordable Green Plans
As an Exelon company, Constellation Energy is part of one of the biggest — and historically most polluting — corporations in North America. Given Exelon’s vast production energy, ranking on the PERI Toxic 100 list is perhaps not that surprising. The good news is that Exelon is upfront about its room for eco-friendly improvement and make it easy for Constellation customers to go green, too.
Usually, fixed-rate renewable-energy plans are among the most expensive options. But in our research, we found Constellation’s green plan rates were comparable to its non-green versions. For example, out of two otherwise identical fixed-rate, 12-month plans from Constellation — “12 Month Fixed Rate 100% Green” and “12 Month Fixed Rate” — it’s the renewable version that currently costs less.
In this case, the green plan is actually cheaper.
|12 Month Fixed Rate 100% Green||
12 Month Fixed Rate
|Energy rate||7.99 cents per kWh||8.79 cents per kWh|
(rate x 1,000 kWh per month)
|Total after 12 months||$958.80||$1,054.80|
Over a year, you could save nearly $100 by choosing the green plan. But it’s important to note that Constellation’s attractive initial rates will very likely not be around for a second year. According to the customer reviews on Consumer Affairs, this new contract usually jacks up the price. It offers great rates for new customers, but it may not be worth it to stick with them for more than an initial contract.
Here’s something to watch out for: Constellation automatically re-ups your contract when your present contract expires, no matter which plan you choose. It’ll send you two notifications prior to re-enrollment, but if you miss those prompts, you have just until the first meter read of your new contract to exit it. After that, the $150 termination fee will apply. Constellation Energy and Just Energy are the only two companies in our lineup with this policy. The others allow your service to lapse back to your utility company if you don’t personally re-enroll.
Still, you can save yourself the trouble of shopping around (and messing with re-enrollment) for three years with Constellation’s fixed-rate, 36-month plan. It offers the same 7.99 cents per kWh rate as the surprisingly cheap green plan.
While its J.D. Power score doesn’t quite compare with Green Mountain Energy’s (falling short for Corporate Citizenship, Communications, Price, and Overall Satisfaction), it’s the second highest of the Pennsylvania EGSs we looked at.
Low Long-Term Rates
Just Energy is the only company on our list that exclusively offers long-term contracts. Prices may fluctuate, but the overall trend is to rise — so if you’re keen on locking in a price for the long haul, Just Energy gives you the most options.
Longer contract terms may offer lower rates.
24 Month Fixed Rate
36 Month Fixed Rate
8.89 cents per kWh
|8.69 cents per kWh|
(rate x 1,000 kWh per month)
|Total after 12 months||$1,066.80||$1,042.80|
Choosing the 3-year plan will provide a good chunk of savings over time: After two years, $48, after three years, $72 (assuming you re-upped on the same 2-year plan in that time).
Just be sure you know what you’re signing up for. Just Energy doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to transparency. In recent years, the Massachusetts Attorney General ordered the company to pay $4 million in restitution to customers who were charged exorbitant rates and cancellation fees that did not appear in Just Energy’s advertising. As part of the settlement, Just Energy agreed to run all its advertising past an independent monitor.
The company has cooperated with all restitutive measures, and its advertising should now track more faithfully to actual rates and fees. That said, we were concerned with the scarcity of plan information available.
Just Energy’s style of Contract Summaries doesn’t make it easy to parse out exact details, leaving blank spaces where rate and term length info should appear. On the third page, you’ll find densely typed Terms and Conditions that confusingly conflate Just Energy’s natural gas and electricity plans. It’s heavy on the legalese but light on the data that you’ll want to nail down before making a purchasing decision, like rate. We couldn’t get a clear price or explanation on what happens after commitment without enrolling in a plan.
Just Energy is pretty big on old-fashioned communication channels, too. For instance, you can pay your bills online, but you’ll be charged a convenience fee — around $2.50 per transaction. This was the only company we encountered that not only didn’t reward paperless billing, it discouraged it.
Straightforward Term Lengths
FirstEnergy offers just two, fixed-rate plans. And rather than enter into a contract for a set number of months from your start date, its plans have global termination dates — currently July 2019 and July 2020.
This means that if you enroll in the summer of 2017, you have a two year contract, but if you enroll in spring of 2019, you have one for a couple months. If you like long term plans because you can jump onboard and forget about it, depending on your enroll date, these may not be your best bet.
Multi-year electricity contracts are not unusual; this method of structuring customer timelines is. Our guess: It’s a holdover style of billing from FirstEnergy’s involvement with governmental aggregations — municipal groups that get together and buy their energy as a community. Rather than have the option of a long term or short term plan, consumers are forced to take what’s available to them at the time.
Still, we like that if you choose to re-up with FirstEnergy again at the end of your initial term, you won’t have to worry whether you’re enrolling at an expensive time of year. First, since it offers just two options, constant for years, its prices are set with the long haul in mind. Second, since the electricity grid in Pennsylvania is more taxed during winter than any other season (space heating accounts for 50 percent of household electricity consumption in PA; air conditioning just three percent), signing up in summer means prices won’t be temporarily inflated.
Of FirstEnergy’s two plans, “Residential Fixed Price” (July 2019) and “Residential Fixed Price” (July 2020), the longer term contract comes with a reduced rate, per usual. If you’re hesitant to enter into a lengthy commitment because you’re planning to move within the next year or two, it’s nice to know that FirstEnergy builds a moving loophole into its cancellation policy. If you’re changing addresses and FirstEnergy does not service your new neighborhood, it doesn’t levy a cancellation fee. Opting out for any other reason comes with a $50 fee, cheaper than any other flat-rate cancellation fee we’ve seen. In fact, it might still be cheaper to go with the longer contract if you aren’t sure when you’ll move, or whether you can take your FirstEnergy service with you.
The longer plan is a better value, even if you have to cut the contract short.
Fixed Price to July 2019
Fixed Price to July 2020
|Energy rate||7.69 cents per kWh||7.34 cents per kWh|
(rate x 1,000 kWh per month)
|Total after 12 months||$922.80||$880.80|
|Plus $50 cancellation fee||$972.80||$930.80|
If you sign up for the longer contract and leave after a year (paying the cancellation fee), you save $42 over doing the same thing with the shorter plan.
What if you stay with the shorter contract to its completion (we’ll assume you enroll July 2017) or left the longer one at the same time (July 2019) and pay the cancellation fee? Even then, you’d still save $34. Moral of the story: With cancellation fees this small, it’s worth it to go with the lower rate, longer term plan.
FirstEnergy’s online shopping experience is woefully outdated, which makes it harder than usual to get to the fine print. You’ll need to take the first step of signing up — follow the Enroll Now! Link — to get “Terms and Conditions” to appear. The website also pays the typical lip service to the green movement, but FirstEnergy plants generate over 95 percent of the company’s total electricity from conventional fuels.
Unique Rewards Plans
All of Direct Energy’s offers include either a rewards program or a charitable donation, and the benefits get bigger the more electricity you use. Paying for electricity isn’t exactly the most fun thing you could spend your money on. If you are looking for a little sugar to help the medicine go down, Direct Energy has a dessert tray of options. Fair warning: They’re not quite as sweet as they look.
Some of the most promising include "Free Power Weekends" and "Free Power Nights". We crunched the numbers to see which paid off over the course of their 12-month contracts.
If you spend most of your leisure time out of the house, none of these plans will do much for your bottom line. But if home is your favorite place to be, you could profit. Based on the estimates of energy companies, most people use about 31% of their total energy on the weekends. If you go through the average 1,000 kWh per month, you'll get about 310 kWh for free. Using data compiled by the EIA, we estimated 30% of average total energy is also used during evenings (including weekend evenings), working out to about 300 free kWh.
Free Power Nights has a shorter bonus window, but you'll save more with its low rate.
|Free Power Weekends
||Free Power Nights
|Free times||Friday 6pm–Sunday 11:59pm||Daily 7–11pm|
|Energy rate||12.09 cents per kWh||10.39 cents per kWh|
|Free kWh savings||- $42.31||- $31.17|
|Total after 12 months||$906.56||$872.64|
Our calculations show that the plan with the lower kWh rate still brings better savings, even if the total number of free hours is greater for Free Power Weekends (54 hours) than Free Power Nights (28 hours). Total difference: $33.92.
If you would rather have a steady rate and not think about twice about starting a load of laundry at 6:30pm versus 7:30pm, Direct Energy’s standard, 12-month, fixed-rate plan Live Brighter runs at an affordable 7.99 cents per kWh. Again, using 1,000 kWh per month would add up to a yearly total of $958.80 — higher than both Free Nights and Free Weekends, but also a lot simpler.
Most of Direct Energy’s plans allow you to earn Plenti points — you get 1,000 as soon as you sign up. That initial windfall is about as good as it gets. You keep accumulating rewards with every payment, but just one point for every dollar you spend on supply charges (what you pay to Direct Energy vs. your EDC — so about two-thirds of your total bill). A Plenti point equates to about one cent, so that 1,000 point bonus works out to $10 when you cash it in with a Plenti merchant (Rite Aid, Macy’s, etc.) You’d have to spend a further $1,000 in supply charges before making off with another $10.00 in Plenti points.
This company has more plan variety than any other we looked at, though most of them seem more flashy than functional. And some seem weirdly niche — like "Connect to Comfort," a 24-month plan that comes with a Hive Hub and a Hive Active Thermostat, smart home devices that allow you to control your heat and A/C via app. Like many of Direct Energy’s plans, how good of a deal it is depends on how closely its offers align with your established habits.
Your Rate Plan Summary Explained
Every deregulated state requires its retail energy providers to present each plan’s info in a condensed, easy-to-read format. In Pennsylvania, this plain language document is the Rate Plan Summary or the Electric Generation Supplier Contract Summary. We promise, it’s easier to understand than its name suggests.
Summaries follow a standardized format intended to give you a clear picture of every plan’s rates, fees, and terms. Here’s a breakdown of the terms you'll see listed.
- Price structure: How you pay. The Price Structure section lists your plan type: variable or fixed rate. It also includes any other charges that would be part of your regular bill, like distribution fees and base charges.
- Generation / supply price: What you pay. Unlike other states, Pennsylvania keeps cost per kWh easy to understand. Other states muddy the waters by including fees and discounts applied according to usage amounts in the quoted rate. PA companies show you you one steady rate. If you’re looking at a variable plan, this cost will reflect your first month only. If it is a special introductory rate, they’ll tell you how long it lasts.
- Statement regarding savings: How your price compares. This is usually a generic statement that you may or may not be getting a better price than you would from the utility company, also known as the Electric Distribution Company, or EDC. Your local EDC sets a “price to compare” and any competitors’ plan may be lower or higher by several cents a kWh.
- Deposit requirements: Any starting sum and how much
- Incentives: Any discounts, bonuses, and cashback offers
- Contract start date: When they’ll start running your meter
- Contract term / length: How long service runs, in months or bill cycles
- Cancellation / early termination fees: The return policy. State law requires a three-day rescission period at the start of every plan, and most providers offer a trial period for the first couple months. If the plan levies any fees for leaving your contract after that, they’ll list the charge and any steps you might take to avoid it.
- Renewal terms: When and how you will receive notification of your contract expiring. Most providers will give you a heads-up two months and one month prior, and detail your options for future contracts.
- Electric Distribution Company information: Your local utility company’s contact info. Your EDC is still responsible for getting electricity to your home, and retail providers never get tired of telling you so. If you have distribution questions or experience power outages, who you gonna call? Your EDC.
Did You Know?
Pennsylvania makes it easy to switch.
Pennsylvania offers first-time retail shoppers an attractive discount with the Standard Offer Program. The Public Utility Commission has a rotating list of retail providers and upon enrollment, they’ll hook you up with a 12-month fixed-rate plan at seven percent off the current utility price. You can cancel at any time without fees. For 1,000 kWh per month usage, PECO quoted us a price to compare of 7.13 cents. A seven percent discount brings that rate to 6.63 cents per kWh (lower than any plan on our provider list) — a $60 savings after a year of service.
At the end of the initial term, you can choose to continue with that company, shop around for another, or return to utility service. If you don’t do anything, you’ll continue with your assigned company on a month-to-month basis.
Plug into green.
As the third-largest coal-producing state in the nation, a sizable portion of everyone’s electricity comes from coal, regardless of the plan type you choose. But times are changing: Pennsylvania's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard requires that 18 percent of all electricity sold by 2021 be sourced from renewable energy. The state subsidizes the increase of renewable energy, and by opting for a green plan, your electricity payments do the same.
Green energy plans are typically, but not always, more expensive than traditional plans. For most homes, the price difference amounts to about $100 a year. With this upcharge, your electricity provider purchases energy credits on your behalf, enough to offset whatever percentage of electricity you choose, between four and 100 percent.
To be clear, no matter fuel portfolio of the plan you choose, your electricity’s make-up will be identical to your neighbors’. Depending on where you live, that could a mix of renewable and fossil fuels. Certificates offset your electricity use by putting an equal amount of clean energy into the electricity grid. If a plan is 100% renewable, that means it’s 100% offset with certificates.
Deregulation may not have improved your bill, but it has improved your experience.
According to a 2016 J.D. Power national report, switching from the utility company to an REP is not as attractive as it once was. Deregulated markets aim to drive down costs and encourage innovation but has really only succeeded in the second — the price gap between utility rates and retail rates has actually been closing. But deregulation has been successful in championing green energy and improving customer service. This improvement shows up in some impressively high J.D. Power ratings.