EPCOR will now offer locked-in contracts for power and gas, the company says.

The new services, which will provide three- to five-year contracts offering a consistent rate for gas, will be called Encor.

Spokesman Tim LeRiche said the new service was introduced in order to meet customer demand.

“This is the next step in our long term growth plan,” said LeRiche. “We know that there is a significant chunk of customers out there that are interested in this type of product, and we want those customers.”

However, consumer advocate Jim Wachowich is urging would-be customers from quickly making the switch without researching the fixed-rate contract first.

“The average household customer does not purchase commodities on a long term, fixed-price contract basis, so they’re really not well educated in making those kinds of choices in the marketplace,” said Wachowich, who is also legal counsel for the Consumers Coalition of Alberta.

“It remains to be seen whether this development will support the marketplace as a good thing,” he added, noting gas price fluctuations in the future may end up costing more for customers who have signed a multi-year contract.

“We note that people get into this business of providing fixed-term, fixed-price contracts to the mass market because they see an opportunity to operate a business and make a profit and that profit is unregulated and that’s always been our concern.”

Wachowich said the best thing interested customers can do is fully understand the terms and conditions they are agreeing to before signing.

“For any customer, I recommend they try to get a sense of the bottom line difference between the contract they’re on and the contract they’re proposing to sign because there have been cases of hidden cases and that’s been very frustrating to consumers.”

LeRiche said Encor will not charge fees for anyone wishing to end their contract early. Current EPCOR customers will not be forced to switch over to Encor services.

EPCOR has about 600,000 power customers across the province, the majority of them in Edmonton.