Deregulating and restructuring utility systems are steps designed to give consumers a choice in utility providers, create a competitive market place and, hopefully, lower utility bills.

Some two dozen states have enacted legislation to restructure utility systems, but the American Association of Retired People (AARP) says early results from some of those states indicate consumers may achieve only modest savings -- or pay even more, as in California.

To help you through the ordeal, AARP offers "Electric Utility Restructuring," a Web-based guide to help you prepare for and get through restructuring in your area.

The guide explains how restructuring works, what it could mean in your area, and it provides a glossary to help you understand the new lingo of electricity industry deregulation.

AARP says because electricity is a significant service that affects the way you live, changes in electricity regulation should benefit all consumers. New laws should help consumers understand deposit requirements, late payment fees, billing, fee and service disclosures, personal information privacy and provider licensing.

Consumers, says AARP, have a role as well and the association offers the following tips to help you fulfill that role.

  • Find out what's going on in your state, by contacting your state public utility commission or your state utility consumer advocate office.
  • Get in touch with AARP in your state to see if they are focusing on this issue with the legislature and/or the public utility commission.
  • Contact your congressional and state representatives to see what they are doing to protect consumers.
  • Read AARP's "Buying Electricity Without Getting Shocked" for consumer tips on shopping for a new electricity supplier.
  • Sign up for the AARP Advocate, our free, monthly e-mail newsletter, and get the latest information on this electric utility restructuring and other important issues.

The Web site also offers tips to keep cool during the summer months in "Bracing for the Heat," AARP's own testimony on the issue Consumer Perspectives on Energy Policy and Energy Guzzlers: Old Refrigerators," a report that says refrigerators made before 1990 burn two to three times as much electricity as today's models.

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