By Mary O'Driscoll
The advent of competition and customer choice in
natural gas and electricity markets has led to the rise
of new kinds of companies that want to offer all
consumers -- residential, commercial and industrial --
what is expected to be a dizzying array of energy
products, services and technologies.
Those new kinds of companies are called energy
marketers. And they have their own advocacy
organization in Washington, D.C.: the National Energy Marketers Association
(NEMA). Craig Goodman is president of the non-profit organization whose goal
is to help devise fair, meaningful ways to implement customer choice and
competition in natural gas and electricity markets around the country.
Energy.com recently interviewed Mr. Goodman about his organization and the
coming competition that will change how consumers buy and use their
electricity and natural gas.
Energy.com: Probably the most-asked question we get is from people who are
worried that marketers are going to call them during dinnertime to try to sell
them electricity, as long-distance telephone companies do. Will that be the
Goodman: Not from NEMA members. The first thing we did as an
organization was to adopt a detailed Uniform Code of Conduct for all marketers
across the country. Unfortunately, not all marketers will be NEMA members.
But the hope is that as consumers start to learn more about energy deregulation
they will make sure they ask their energy supplier if they are a NEMA member
before they do business with them.
Key points within our code of conduct are to refrain from abusive and intrusive
sales practices and to scrupulously safeguard privacy and confidential
information. Our members are the largest and more honorable companies in this
business and it is in our best interest to help regulators identify "bad actors"
within the industry and help regulators make rules that will drive them out of the
Energy.com: With customer choice and competition now under way in many
parts of the country, what is the biggest hurdle we have to get over to ensure
that customers will see the benefits of competition?
Goodman: We have to ensure that consumers are permitted to purchase the
energy and related services they actually want, and that hidden charges for
services that they don't want are not forced upon them unknowingly.
Energy.com: What are "hidden charges?"
Goodman: Typically, as markets become restructured, there are a number of
hidden charges that are built in to the deregulation process, which most
consumers are not aware of. For example, besides utilities' stranded costs,
many customer choice programs are requiring customers to buy reliability that
they don't need, and social programs that are built into the price of energy that
consumers are not generally aware of. Utilities have historically been major tax
collectors and social program administrators. The move to a deregulated market
is challenging those vested interests that want to maintain both the tax base and
the social programs of yesteryear. There will be fewer and fewer ways to hide
these charges, or taxes, as we move toward a deregulated market.
Energy.com: You sound a lot like a consumer advocate, yet you're
representing energy marketers -- businesses. Aren't there consumer advocates
out there already? What is it NEMA is trying to do?
Goodman: There are so many different types of competing consuming
interests, it is impossible for any one to represent all of them. NEMA represents
those who want to service virtually every type of consumer.
We provide a vantage point, and would welcome all classes of consumers to
work with us to advocate the most pro-competitive consumer rates, tariffs and
services as possible.
So, believe it or not, the person who actually has to sell competitively, and deal
with all of the intricacies of the rules from the wellhead to the burnertip or
lightbulb, is inherently going to have the consumer's interests at heart -- or he is
not going to be able to deliver the highest quality, lowest cost energy and related
products, services and technology possible, and therefore be competitive. The
competitive marketer is perhaps the consumer's best ally.