Area ripe for electric rip-offs this summer

6/5/2019, 3:47 p.m.
With ComEd’s electricity price (6.725 cents per kilowatt-hour) nearly 9 percent lower than last summer, area consumers are at heightened ...

With ComEd’s electricity price (6.725 cents per kilowatt-hour) nearly 9 percent lower than last summer, area consumers are at heightened risk of rip-offs in the months before a historic Illinois law—one of the toughest in the nation—cracks down on dishonest sales tactics, the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) warned Tuesday.

In addition to issuing a consumer alert, the watchdog also released a free, 37-page online “Gas & Electric Guide,” at CUBHelpCenter.com, which educates consumers about their rights and shows how to spot bad deals hiding on their bills.

“This summer, Illinoisans face a buyer-beware market,” CUB Executive Director David Kolata said. “As alternative suppliers ramp up their summer door-to-door marketing campaigns, we are concerned that dishonest sales reps may be even more desperate to capture customers, knowing that ComEd’s new power price is hard to beat and tough new consumer protections are on the way.”

Customers in Northern Illinois can choose a company other than the regulated utilities to supply their electricity and gas. But the market has been plagued by bad deals and misleading sales pitches. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, who led the charge for stronger consumer protections in this year’s legislative session, says Illinois residents have lost more than $600 million with alternative electricity suppliers since 2015.

This past Friday, the General Assembly passed the Home Energy Affordability and Transparency (HEAT) Act—the most significant reforms in the history of Illinois’s competitive electric and gas markets. The HEAT Act would stop alternative suppliers from automatically renewing a contract from a fixed price to a high variable rate; eliminate exit fees; protect Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds from supplier overcharges; and require the utility’s price to be clearly displayed on alternative supplier marketing materials and utility bills. The act, one of the toughest laws of its kind in the country, is expected to be signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. It would take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

“The HEAT Act is a sorely needed crackdown on alternative suppliers, and we thank Attorney General Raoul for his leadership in getting those consumer protections passed,” Kolata said. “But this summer, before those improvements take effect, consumers have to protect themselves.”

CUB advises consumers to take the following precautions against shady sales tactics:

Know the utility’s price. From June through September, ComEd’s power price is nearly 9 percent lower than last summer: 6.725 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). In this market, ComEd is likely your best bet.

*Don’t show your electric bill or account number to just anyone. A door-to-door marketer may ask to see your electric bill. Don’t do it, unless you are sure you want to change suppliers. An unethical sales representative could use that information to switch you to an alternative supplier without your consent—a scam called “slamming.”

*Watch out for promotional rates. Ask if the rate you are being offered is an introductory or promotional rate. If so, ask when that rate ends and what the new rate will be. CUB has seen far too many customers get hooked by a promotional rate, only to get slammed with skyrocketing bills once that introductory price goes away.