A consumer advocate says most Albertans likely won't benefit from ATCO's re-entry into the unregulated, retail electricity and gas business.
On Tuesday, the company launched ATCOenergy, a new electricity and natural gas retail company that promises Alberta households great service and lower costs.
"ATCO is showcasing our commitment to this province by investing in a new Alberta company," said Nancy Southern, ATCO president and CEO.
She said the company will create new jobs, offer a new energy provider option, and lower electricity and natural gas rates when Albertans need a break during this economic downturn.
But Jim Wachowich, legal council for the Consumers Coalition of Alberta, told CBC News the company's decision is based on potential profits.
Wachowich said prior to deregulation, consumers knew the cost breakdowns when they looked at their bills. Today, in the unregulated world, there are hidden retail mark-ups.
"The unfortunate aspect is you don't know what those mark-ups are in an unregulated marketplace, whereas, in the regulated marketplace, there is background data that tells you what the mark-up is, and you have some assurance that the mark-up is reasonable."
Southern said ATCO, which has been doing research for two years, has learned what people expect from an energy provider.
The company will offer competitive prices for gas and low administration fees, she said, and promises transparency in all its dealings with customers.
There will be no penalty when cancelling a contract, Southern said, and "no unsolicited sales tactics; no unexpected visitors knocking on your door or telemarketers phoning you and interrupting your dinner. And no misleading offers."
Wachowich cautioned consumers that contracts are complex and difficult to understand. His best advice is that people be careful and not sign anything they don't completely understand.
"Really, what they are asking you to do when you pick a multi-year, fixed-priced contract is to hedge on a energy-as-a-commodity contract," he said.
ATCO said its eventual goal is to move ATCOenergy into markets outside the province.
ATCO got out of the retail business after electricity was deregulated in 2001 and sold its client list to Direct Energy. The company signed a 10-year, non-compete clause, which has since expired.