This N.Y. Utility Offers Power, Gas -- and Security Cameras

  • Power suppliers expanding beyond traditional energy offerings
  • Utilities coming up with incentives to gain new customers

In an effort to win new customers, power and natural gas suppliers across the U.S. are offering incentives that have little -- or nothing -- to do with the energy they deliver.

On Tuesday, Rockland County, New York-based Major Energy said it’ll provide free, front-door security cameras to customers who sign up for two years of service in markets from New York to Ohio. The utility is partnering up with Ring, a Santa Monica, California-based company that makes a camera-embedded doorbell, to supply the product.

It’s just the latest move by a utility to expand beyond traditional services to secure new business in increasingly competitive markets such as New York and Texas. There are at least 100 energy suppliers vying for power and gas customers in New York alone, according to utility owner Consolidated Edison Inc. Major Energy already offers money to those who refer friends to sign up. Another New York energy supplier, Columbia Utilities, advertises restaurant gift cards. In Texas, suppliers have offered free service on weekends.

‘Evolving’ Business

“We have the view that, if you’re not evolving your business in today’s world with the rate at which change is occurring, it’s not a good thing,” Dan Alper, chief executive officer of Major Energy, said by phone. “We’re bundling our electric service with home-related products, and Ring is a great example of it.”

Offering the video doorbells, a service that Major Energy values at $199, is also part of an effort to change the way utilities are perceived by their customers, Eliott Wolbrom, the company’s chief marketing officer, said by phone.

“People have a vision of a utility company as being a necessary evil, and something they have to pay or the house goes dark, but that’s not how we view it,” Wolbrom said. "We are more than just a utility, more than an electric or gas provider.”

The rise of customer-owned renewable energy systems is putting the traditional utility business model at risk, prompting power suppliers to look for ways to diversify.

“The idea of just providing a one-way flow of energy, and looking out for the grid, is under threat,” David Groarke, a New York-based managing consultant at PA Consulting Group, said by phone. "You’re seeing utilities have to invest in new opportunities, in new business models, and package services to customers.”

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