Citizens Utility Board Warns of Consumer Rip-Offs - NBC Chicago

Citizens Utility Board Warns of Consumer Rip-Offs



    The Citizen's Utility Board reports an increase in complaints about consumers about skyrocketing electric bills. NBC 5's Charlie Wojciechowski reports. (Published Tuesday, May 13, 2014)

    The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) says Illinois consumers should be on the lookout for potential rip-offs following one of the most expensive power consumption winters in the state's history.

    According to a report released Tuesday by the consumer watchdog group, complaints about alternative electric suppliers are up 115 percent this year, which could cost residents hundreds of dollars annually.

    "Over the past 12 months, Illinois' energy market has become more confusing, more expensive and riskier for consumers," CUB's director of communications Jim Chilsen said.

    The report comes as electricity rates are scheduled to increase significantly on June 1, changes that could double or even triple some bills.

    The CUB report says not all alternative power suppliers are acting inappropriately, but rates from suppliers competing against ComEd are 20 percent higher this month compared to May 2013.

    "A Melrose Park woman reported that her variable rate jumped to 35 kilowatts per hour. That's about six times the current ComEd rate," Chilsen said.

    The biggest consumer complaints include:

    • Exorbitant rates
    • Low introductory rates that suddenly disappear.
    • Extra Fees
    • Punishing exit fees
    • High pressure sales tactics

    CUB says 70 percent more customers left their utility supplier for an unregulated company last year.

    Alternative suppliers were able to offer short term savings since 2010, but there's concern that the record low temperatures last winter and the looming price increase will convince people to sign up for bad deals, according to the report.

    CUB suggests consumers ask if an offer is a fixed or variable rate and to make sure you know the length of the term. Consumers should also know the utility's price to compare, and to beware of any sales pitch that promises savings.

    Smart meters are starting to roll out in the Chicago area and could be in all home in the next two years. The meters reward you for using less energy at peak hours.

    ComEd's new rate on June 1 will be 7.6 cents per kilowatt hour, and any provider charging more than that will lead to a higher bill.