I-Team: Watchdog group questions one gas company

The Citizens Utility Board issued an alert to Chicagoans about pitches and promises from the unregulated gas supplier.
April 14, 2014 8:37:47 PM PDT
The Citizens Utility Board issued an alert to Chicagoans about pitches and promises from the unregulated gas supplier Nicor Advanced Energy.

The warning comes as gas bills climbed following a harsh winter. The I-Team finds that some residents may be paying two or even three times more for gas than those with other suppliers.

The CUB e-letter warns residents "don't be fooled" by the pitches and promises of Nicor Advanced Energy.

"We are getting a significant number of complaints," David Kolata, executive director at CUB, said.

The alert also warns of high bills.

"We have received complaints from customers as high as 1.77 a therm, which is extremely high," Kolata said.

CUB said there's also marketing confusion between Nicor Advanced Energy and Nicor. Nicor is a regulated utility, and the Illinois Commerce Commission makes sure consumers get reasonable rates. Nicor Advanced Energy is an affiliated, sister company of Nicor, which is not regulated. The logos and advertising are similar for both companies.

A spokesperson for both companies said the brands are distinguished, and written materials and sales reps inform customers that Nicor Advanced Energy is an alternate supplier.

"That's deceptive to the public," Gloria Krecl, customer, said. Krecl, who lives in west suburban Blomingdale, was a Nicor customer. She and her husband switched to Nicor Advanced Energy in May. In a letter, the company told her they would save five cents a therm until October. However, after then, she would be switched to a variable rate plan, which would be higher or lower than other utility services depending on the market.

"And the price went up and up and up," Krecl said.

Krecl's bill for March was $459.

"It's not a designer handbag that you can charge what you choose. This is a commodity that you have to have," Krecl said.

The $459 bill was the last one Krecl got from Nicor Advanced Energy. She did some research and figured out she'd be paying less than half by going back to Nicor. She says when she compared that same month, the cost per therm at Nicor was dramatcially lower.

Nicor Advanced Energy blames the record cold winter, saying ". . .the combination of increased costs and higher usage resulted in higher energy bills."

The company also pointed out Krecl's variable rate plan and said the majority of Nicor Advanced Energy customers are on a fixed rate plans, which do save money.

But CUB says a recent study revealed 90 percent of all plans with unregulated gas suppliers end up costing more.

"The vast majority of those plans turn out to be money losers," Kolata said.

The executive director of CUB says if you want stay with a state regulated gas supplier. In most of the suburbs it's Nicor, and in the city, it's Peoples Gas and in the North Shore, North Shore Gas.

"When the bill came, it was $459. I just was like, 'Oh my gosh, what would someone do if they were on a fixed income?'" Krecl said.

If you want to try out an unregulated gas supplier, you need to first decide if you want a variable rate plan or a fixed rate plan. CUB warns that even a fixed rate with an unregulated gas supplier could be overpriced.

Before signing up for any plan you should first check to see what the going market price is on gas, CUB suggests.


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