Power companies dangle free nights and weekends

NEW YORK (AP) — Electric companies are increasingly offering plans that sound like come-ons from mobile phone companies: Free nights, free weekends and pre-paid plans.

“We are seeing a transformation in the way people buy and use electricity in the U.S.,” says Steven Murray, president of Direct Energy’s residential energy programs.

The more customized plans are made easier by the growing use of digital meters that wirelessly link electric companies and customers, allowing both to track usage in real time. The plans enabled traditional utilities to reduce their costs by encouraging customers to use electricity during off-peak hours, when it is cheaper.

They come with risks, though. Customers can end up paying a lot more for power than they expected. If customers are careful, though, they can save some money.

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