Power companies dangle free nights and weekends

NEW YORK (AP) - The advent of digital meters which allow real-time monitoring has begun to prompt some electric companies to take a page out of the mobile phone marketing book.

In a shake-up of rigid old one rate business models, electric companies have begun increasingly offering free nights, free weekends and pre-paid plans.

Forty-two percent of U.S. electric customers have digital meters, up from less than 5 percent in 2008. The percentage is rising.

Digital meters have enabled traditional utilities to reduce their costs by encouraging customers to use electricity during off-peak hours, when it is cheaper.

But there is a potential downside for customers. Some plans offer low introductory rates that can quickly skyrocket. Others have high early-termination fees. Some fixed-rate plans are a great deal if power prices rise, but not if they fall.

If customers are careful, though, they can pay less.

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