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EXPLAINING ENERGY CHOICES

Stories about electricity deregulation tend to be wallpapered with video of powerlines and generators. They're dull to watch, and hard to understand. You might think you're better off just avoiding the subject. Don't. When deregulation comes to your state, it will affect everyone in your community.

To help viewers make sense of this complicated issue, produce stories that are interesting to watch and easy to follow. Here are some strategies you can try. If you do a story that turns out well, please let us know so we can feature it on the NewsLab website.

Be sure to consult our guide to Internet resources on deregulation for links that can add context to your reporting.


Find a New Frame

  • Use an analogy to explain what deregulation means and how it works. Compare it to something viewers already understand, like what happened to the telephone industry, for instance.

  • Compare deregulation to other shopping experiences viewers may be familiar with. For example, you could use a market analogy, in which organic produce (like "green" energy) costs more.

  • Compare "introductory offers" from utilities to the low interest rates offered by credit card companies for a limited time. Explain how long these rate deals last, and what the cost will be when they expire.

  • Look for another service that works the way the new system works, with separate production and distribution units. The current provider may become something more akin to a delivery service, bringing what you ordered to your door.


Make it Personal

  • Analyze one person's electric bill. First see if they can explain it to you. Then take it apart and show what each charge means. How much electricity are they using, when, and what do they pay for it? Explain how that would be different under the new system. Recalculate the bill and show the results.

  • Talk about energy use by showing appliances in someone's home, rather than power plants and other more abstract visuals. Get specific and provide details about energy use that viewers can relate to.

  • Focus on one person's decision-making process to explain the choices facing all your viewers. Ask how this person will decide, what information they need, and how they'll get it. The answers could help you shape additional stories.

  • Find people or businesses who will be affected by deregulation plans by checking state Public Utility Commission filings for statements or complaints. Look at residential and commercial users to see who gets a better deal.

Compare and Contrast

  • Report on other states' experiences with electricity deregulation, particularly neighboring states. Have the promises been kept?

  • Check the history and record of new suppliers who will enter your electricity market.

  • Provide tools to help viewers evaluate offers. Post a rate calculator or shopper's comparison sheet on your website, or have your consumer reporter develop a packet you can mail to viewers.


Page Last Updated
January 15, 2009
 

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