Although more than eight in 10 Virginians say they are very or somewhat interested in the state’s upcoming competitive market for natural gas and electricity services, a similar number say they need more information before making a decision on whether to select a new provider of energy services, according to a recently released survey.

The survey was conducted by the Center for Research and Public Policy on behalf of the Virginia State Corporation Commission’s (SCC) Virginia “Energy Choice” program. The research is part of a $30 million educational effort that begins this fall and will provide Virginians with the information they need to make an informed decision in a competitive energy market, according to the SCC. It is the first of several public surveys in the next few years that will gauge Virginians’ awareness about utility restructuring in the state.

The survey revealed that 80.7% of Virginia residents and 72.8% of business leaders say they are very interested or somewhat interested in energy choice in the state. At the same time, the survey found that 83.5% of residents and 80.8% of business leaders are waiting for more information before making a decision related to energy choice.

Nearly 90% of survey respondents were aware that they need to know their “price to compare,” or rate per kilowatt hour, in order to shop for power but about the same percentage could not estimate or guess their current rate. Also, 63.9% mistakenly believe that once energy choice is introduced in the state, they should call their new energy supplier in case of an emergency. In fact, consumers in the state will continue to contact their local distribution company for service-related problems. Illustrating the need for widespread education in the state, the benchmark survey found that only 28% of Virginia residents are aware that Virginia will begin to move to a competitive energy market in 2002.

Since July 1, 2000, Virginia law has permitted natural gas retail choice to expand to all areas of the state. Retail choice for electricity supply begins to roll out on Jan. 1, 2002 and all Virginians will have the opportunity to shop for electric power by Jan. 1, 2004.

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