Sparked by a six-fold increase in complaints about unregulated natural gas suppliers in 2014, the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) issued a warning for Chicago-area consumers to beware of bad deals in the gas market. The watchdog group is concerned that frigid winter weather and recent increases in rates offered by the regulated utilities – Peoples Gas, North Shore Gas and Nicor Gas – have created fertile ground for rip-offs.
Alternative supplier offers that look good now may turn out to be money-losers in the long run, according to CUB, which is a nonprofit utility watchdog organization created by the Illinois Legislature to represent the interests of residential and small-business utility customers.
So far in 2014, CUB has received nearly 200 inquiries or complaints about alternative gas suppliers. That is about six times the number of complaints the group saw in the same period last year. Customers have complained that their natural gas supplier was switched without their permission or that they’re paying more than they thought they had agreed to.
CUB recommendations for consumers include:
- Find out if the rate from a natural gas supplier is “variable,” meaning it changes on a monthly basis, or “fixed,” meaning it is set for the length of the term.
- Verify if the rate is “introductory” or “promotional.” A seemingly low initial rate may rise significantly after the first month or few months.
- Is a monthly fee attached to the rate?
- Is there an exit fee for “early termination”? Under Illinois state law, gas suppliers are not allowed to charge an exit fee of more than $50.