A pair of MIT graduates, one a New Hampshire native, will soon debut a new online shopping tool designed to help consumers compare offers from competitive energy supply companies.
Andre Ramirez, of Northern California, and Christopher Gaudet, who still has family in the Wolfeboro area, believe they have the experience and financial backing to go live with ShopEnergyPlans.com at some point in the next couple of weeks.
After graduating from the MIT Sloan School of Management with master's degrees in 2009, the two Internet entrepreneurs successfully launched plugwiz.com, where consumers interested in electric and alternative vehicles can review options and costs. The technology was recently licensed by the state of California for use on its California's Drive Clean website.
While developing plugwiz.com, Ramirez and Gaudet learned a lot about the competitive market for energy supply in the 15 states that have opened the door for competition. They also realized there was a lot of confusion among consumers, who could benefit from an objective, third-party comparison of the nearly 20 rate options now offered by eight different companies in the state.
Consumers have been bombarded with advertising and direct mail from competitors offering rates lower than the default service rate offered by Public Service of New Hampshire, which continues to deliver the electricity no matter who provides it.
More than 20 percent of PSNH's residential customers have switched to competitive supply, but others are reluctant to make a change without researching all the options, which include fixed rates, variable rates, environmentally conscious "green" rates and various contract terms. ShopEnergyPlans.com could have a significant impact on customer migration from PSNH by simplifying the research process.
"When people see their options and see the choices they do have, they are going to be more comfortable about the choice, and that is going to expand and increase shopping," Ramirez said. "We are going to be testing the tool over the next couple of weeks before the first launch in New Hampshire."
The goal is to launch in all deregulated states, especially states like Texas, where consumers have 40 competitors offering 200 different rate options. "If users find something they like and click through to the link, we would get some credit for that," said Ramirez, "very much like any Internet referral site."
Competitive electric supply companies have to sign up to be posted on the site and must agree to continuously update and verify the information submitted. Ramirez said suppliers in New Hampshire appear interested.
"Most are on board because they all believe they are very competitive and have the best options for the New Hampshire consumer," he said. "Whether consumers want to make a choice or not shouldn't be based on the fact that they don't have enough information, especially in this day and age."