REP vs TDSP

What’s the Difference Between a Utility and an Electricity Provider?

When it’s time to choose an electricity plan, it can be really confusing picking your way between all the options available and the host of initials and terms.

One of the most common sticking points for electricity customers is what, exactly, the difference is between an electricity provider (also called REP, CRES, or electric supplier) and an electric utility (also called a TDSP, TDU, or EDU). They’re both vital to the success of electricity deregulation, but they play very different roles. Understanding how they fit together can make a big difference in your overall confidence as an electricity customer trying to shop for the best electricity plan.

What is an electricity provider?

Electricity providers are companies that purchase wholesale electricity from electricity generators and sell it at a retail level to the general public. They are also responsible for having that electricity delivered to the appropriate local utility company that serves their customers. State’s label electricity providers with different names such as, REPs (Retail Electric Providers), CRES (Competitive Retail Electric Service providers), or licensed electric suppliers, to name a few.

Every state that is deregulated requires their electricity providers to be licensed or certified by the state in order to sell electricity. Your state’s public utility commission website keeps an up to date list of these electricity providers so that you can be certain that you are purchasing electricity from an authorized electricity provider. All of the electricity providers represented on ElectricityPlans.com are authorized electricity providers in the respective states where they do business.

Switching to one of these authorized electricity providers is easy.  See our post on How to switch electricity providers.

What is an electric utility?

TDSPs (Transmission & Distribution Service Providers) or EDUs (Electric Distribution Utilities) are common names used for local electric utility companies. You may also see the term TDU (Transmission and Distribution Utility) used occasionally. The terms are interchangeable.

TDSPs or EDUs are the companies and people who own and maintain utility poles and power lines. They are the ones that you call when your power goes out. These utility companies are responsible for the physical delivery of electricity to your home or business. Before deregulation, everyone was required to buy their electricity from their local utility company.  With deregulation, the supply of electricity was opened to competition while the delivery of electricity continues to be regulated by the state’s public utility commission.

TDSPs and EDUs technically do not generate electricity in a state that is deregulated. However, their parent company may own and operate facilities that generate electricity, and they may purchase electricity from these plants or other wholesale electricity sources in order to serve customers that haven’t switched to another electricity provider.

In some deregulated markets, the local utility company can offer electric service at a standard service rate which is regulated by the state. In other deregulated markets, customers can receive electricity from a default electricity provider that may be related to their local utility. These are options for customers who don’t want to shop for an electricity plan and explore the possibility of a lower electricity bill.

What’s the difference between electricity providers and electric utilities?

To the general public, it’s not usually that big of a deal where the electricity comes from or how it gets to their location, just as long as it does. However, these two entities play very different roles behind the scenes. For deregulation to function properly, they need clearly defined job descriptions.

It all starts with the power generators – the companies who produce electricity to sell on the wholesale market. The electricity providers purchase the rights to large volumes of this electricity from the generators on the wholesale market and then turn around and sell it to their retail customers. The electricity providers market the sale of electricity to the public through various offerings of electricity plans that include everything from classic fixed-rate electricity, to 100% green electricity, to bundled products that have incentives such as a Nest Learning Thermostat™ or Visa gift cards.

Electric utilities are responsible for the distribution, or delivery, of electricity to the customers who live in their service area. The electric utilities also employ the lineman that restore your power after a major weather event and repair the downed power lines and damaged poles. Every month you will see a delivery charge on your electricity bill. This is for the transmission and distribution of electricity to your home or business.  The amount charged for the delivery of electricity is still regulated by your state’s public utility commission. These delivery rates are subject to change at least twice a year and they pay for the maintenance and operation of the poles and wires that serve your residence or business.

Ultimately, the main difference between an electricity provider and an electric utility comes down to what they service and how. Electricity providers deal with purchasing and marketing electricity to customers. Electric utilities handle the poles and wires that service your home. Separating these roles means customers can shop for a competitive electricity rate and still receive reliable electric service.

Who do I pay for my electricity?

Depending on the state where you live, you’ll get your electricity bill from your local electric utility or your electricity provider.  Either way your electricity bill generally has two line items: supply and delivery. The supply charge is for the actual electricity used and this is paid to your electricity provider. The delivery charge is for the transmission and distribution of electricity and this is paid to your local electric utility.  In most states you will receive these charges on one bill, and the company that collects your payment will make sure that the appropriate parties are paid for their services.