Few people have heard of it, yet many consider John Blankenbaker's KENBAK-1 to be the first commercial personal computer.

Koss introduced these headphones over 40 years ago, and they remain affordable favorites to this day.

The Alberta Direct Energy Open Flex Plan

[Note: This post gives information about an energy plan offered in Alberta, Canada. It's not really of any interest to anyone outside Alberta... - jbG.]

Here are a few frequently asked questions about the Direct Energy Open Flex Plan that has been sold door-to-door in Alberta over the past few months.

I am a Direct Energy Regulated Services customer who signed up for the Direct Energy Open Flex Plan and then discovered it didn't fit my needs. I don't represent the company in any way, nor is this information necessarily up-to-date or correct. If in doubt, consult Direct Energy or the Alberta Office of the Utilities Consumer Advocate.

1. Will the Alberta Direct Energy Open Flex Plan save me money?

The Direct Energy Open Flex Plan may cost you significantly more than the Alberta Regulated Rate Option (RRO).

Direct Energy charges a comparable rate for natural gas and electricity, but adds Flow Through Administration Fees of $2 per gigajoule for natural gas and 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity.

Here's an estimate showing the cost difference for my house in January, 2009:

Energy cost comparison (estimated)

2. I thought I would save 50% on my administration fees by signing up for the Direct Energy Open Flex plan. Did I misunderstand?

The "50% administration fee savings" the Direct Energy salesperson mentioned when you signed up probably isn't what you thought it was.

Direct Energy charges a flat rate Site Administration Fee of $6.50 for either a single fuel or dual fuel plan. They claim "this translates into a 50% discount on the Site Administration Fee for Dual Fuel Open Flex Plans."

The "50% savings" does not take into account the additional Flow Through Administration Fees, nor is it a comparison between the Direct Energy Open Flex Plan and the Alberta Regulated Rate Option.

3. Why did the salesperson ask to see a copy of my recent utility statements?

Your utility statement includes the account number, name and address that the salesperson needs to fill out a new energy contract. Asking for a copy of your statement also gives the salesperson an opportunity to extend the sales presentation.

You are not required to show your utility statements to any salesperson. In fact, it is best to use extreme caution when sharing personal information with strangers.

4. Now that the energy market in Alberta is deregulated, do I have to switch from the Regulated Rate Option?

No. You can remain on the Regulated Rate Option. There is no requirement to switch from a pink utility statement to a blue one unless you wish to enter into an energy contract. The Regulated Rate is approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission and any eligible consumer who has not chosen a competitive energy retailer is automatically an RRO customer.

5. Can I switch back to the Alberta Regulated Rate Option from the Direct Energy Open Flex Plan?

Yes. You have a 10 day cooling off period after signing an energy contract in which you can cancel at any time. Once the 10 day cooling off period has passed, the terms of the Direct Energy Open Flex plan allow you to cancel and return to the Alberta Regulated Rate Option by giving 30 day's notice. Note that the conditions of Direct Energy's offerings vary by region, and some plans may charge a penalty for early termination.

If you decided to cancel your contract, be sure to contact your RRO energy providers (both natural gas and electricity) and inform them of the change to ensure uninterrupted service.
It is always smart to review all contracts carefully before signing. Don't be afraid to ask for a copy (including the terms & conditions sheet) for careful review without the salesperson present. This will help you to fully understand what you've been offered and gives you the opportunity to consider other options before signing.

In my case, I signed up for the Direct Energy Open Flex Plan without carefully reading the full terms of the contract. I incorrectly believed that combining my electricity and natural gas bills would save me money. That turned out not to be the case and I was able to cancel the agreement during the cooling off period.


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