The deregulation of the energy industry is a hot new market for some start-ups, as Emily Barker reveals in the Upstarts section of the November 2000 issue of Inc. magazine. But more important, it may also be an opportunity for many small businesses to cut their energy costs -- if they make the best choices for their budgets.

Much of the activity on the energy deregulation front has taken place in electricity. Until recently, electricity was provided to consumers from a single provider. But today, many states have restructured to offer consumers a choice of electricity providers. Theoretically, the new, competitive utility markets might drive down your prices. But what's the status of restructuring in your state? How do you know who the new utility providers are in your area? Who will give you the best deal? And what about gas and oil?

There are dozens of Web sites popping up to help you figure it all out. We've narrowed them down to a handful of the most helpful. We've also made sure to include those mainstays that offer information on improving your energy efficiency and cut costs -- whether or not your state has deregulated.

U.S. Department of Energy: Your Business
The U.S. Department of Energy's site for business offers how-to information on energy choices and costs that is most helpful for manufacturers -- which makes sense, because manufacturers are the biggest users of energy. The DOE's Office of Industrial Technologies offers strategies and best practices for industrial plants on reducing energy costs plant-wide and improving plant efficiency using new technologies. Nonmanufacturing types can gain tips on cutting energy costs in commercial buildings and a collection of everything you always wanted to know about U.S. utilities.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star for Small Business
The EPA's Energy Star program for small businesses was created to help small businesses increase their competitiveness through energy efficiency. The prevailing message here: Cut your long-term costs through energy efficiency upgrades. To that end, Energy Star offers plenty of tips, downloadable guides, and products to help you control your energy costs. The EPA also has an Energy Star Small-Business Awards program to recognize businesses that reduce their energy costs and consumption.

ENERGYguide.com
ENERGYguide.com is one of several comparison-shopping Web sites for the new competitive energy industry. Simply type in your zip code, and you can compare energy offers available in your area. If your state has not yet deregulated, you will get a quick summary of the restructuring efforts there. ENERGYguide.com also offers a tool to analyze and benchmark your current energy usage.

National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners
Much of the current energy deregulation action is taking place at the state level, so it's important to contact your state utility regulator to get the latest information on or ask questions about the suppliers in your area. The NARUC site offers a handy page oflinks to each state's public utilities commission.

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