It's been said that choice is the ultimate luxury. Since 1999, New Jersey businesses and residents have had the luxury of choosing which utility company from which to purchase gas, electricity, and heating fuel; but with choice often comes challenge. Along with their new options and the predicted benefits of a more competitive marketplace, New Jersey residents have also had to deal with the changes and questions raised by the state government's deregulation of energy providers.
The Balance of Power
In 1999, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU)—the governing body for electric, oil and natural gas services—introduced a bill to deregulate the state's energy industry for residential customers. (New Jersey's commercial energy market had been opened up earlier in what some say was an attempt to keep local corporations happy and committed to staying put.)
The goal of the Electric Discount and Energy Competition Act (EDECA) was to enable New Jersey energy consumers to shop around and chose the energy provider that best suited their budget and service requirements. The free-market rationale hinged on the prediction that enough healthy competition between providers would keep prices down while offering better service and reliability to customers. Under the auspices of the federal Department of Energy, New Jersey took measures to safeguard free market competition for electricity and gas, including the requirement for the NJBPU to "unplug" power stations with higher costs than other available energy sources.
According to Betty Kennedy, public relations coordinator for Conectiv Power Delivery, an independent utility provider based in Carney's Point, New Jersey. "Up till 1999, when the state voted to restructure the energy industry, each company had a specific service area."
Conectiv—which services eight counties in southern New Jersey—claims that the deregulation has reduced their customer's rates by 10.2 percent, saving them a cumulative $290 million during the years from 1999 to 2003.