Electric restructuring should be left up to the states and besubject to a minimum of federal government involvement, accordingto one survey just completed for the Electric Consumers’ Alliance(ECA). Meanwhile, another survey by RKS Research & Consultantsfinds commercial customers are increasingly demanding of betterservice and lower rates from their electricity suppliers in stateswhere competition already has begun.

While the ECA survey says 77% of consumers support competition,respondents believe restructuring should be determined at the statelevel. They support voluntary electricity buying groups, and theyfavor allowing electric utilities to continue to serve theircurrent customers.

“Choice is not choice if the federal government tells consumershow and when to choose,” said ECA Executive Director Robert K.Johnson, who said any federal legislation should be “supportiverather than invasive.”

About half of the respondents reported some familiarity with thederegulation of utilities, with over three-quarters supporting theeffort. Survey respondents think, by almost a four-to-one margin,that state governments would do a better job than the federalgovernment introducing competition and choice. Sixty-six percentsaid they believe there will be no change as a result ofderegulation, while 16% say reliability will improve and 15%believe it will get worse.

ECA said it advocates electric restructuring that has “noartificial restrictions” to prevent consumers from choosing anyqualified energy provider, including the local utility. Energyproviders must also not be allowed to discriminate between customerclasses or demographic groups. Congress should allow the states tochoose for themselves the most practical course of action onelectric restructuring.

Johnson said many restructuring proposals fall short of the markby not letting the market respond to consumer demands. ECA approvesof H.R. 2944, sponsored by Joe Barton (R-TX), saying the bill “is asolid step in the right direction and deserves consumer support.”Also praised by ECA is recent Senate legislation introduced bySenate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman FrankMurkowski (R-AK) and Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA).

The Electric Consumers’ Alliance is a coalition of more than 275consumer, government and business organizations, representingrural, low-income, senior, minority, disabled, small business andresidential consumers.

And according to yet another survey, this one of businesselectricity consumers, a majority believe that as long as energycosts are low, it doesn’t matter what supplier they choose. “Ifthis trend continues, it could spell increased opportunity for newentrants in energy markets — and a threat to utility businesscustomer retention efforts,” according to the study by RKS Research& Consultants of North Salem, NY.

The RKS survey found the number of energy-related product andservice offerings has declined from six months ago. Further,one-third of businesses in deregulated states still don’t know theyhave the option of choosing their electric supplier. “Despite thederegulation of major markets, businesses in states withcompetition and choice are more critical of their energy suppliersthan those in regulated states,” the survey says. “In particular,business assessments of utility rates and service are significantlylower in the Northeast and Pacific Coast, two major regions withincreased competition. The results suggest that business customersin choice states are demanding more from their energy providers.”

The survey found that only 14% of business customers use theirelectricity provider for energy consulting, additional products andservices. “And majorities of business customers believe thatelectricity delivery performance is the key criterion for choosingan electric supplier.”

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