CHICAGO - We all want to save when we shop for an electric supplier. But as the I-Team has uncovered in a series of reports, sometimes those deals from alternative energy suppliers end up costing you more money. Now new rules could help protect your wallet.
In what the Illinois Commerce Commission called a major victory for consumers, new final rules have been established to ensure customers have "clear" information when choosing an alternative electric supplier - including a requirement for all suppliers to provide what's known as a "uniform disclosure statement."
"It's spelling out clearly for the consumer what the contract terms are," said Sadzi Oliva, ICC commissioner.
Suppliers must be more transparent about variable rates and fully disclose if rates are variable over time. More specifically there's a requirement that suppliers must provide 12 months of pricing history for a variable offer, and separate written notice when a variable rate will increase by at least 20 percent.
Suppliers must now record and retain all telemarketing sales calls in case there are questions about the sale pitch or what a customer actually agreed to in the call. It also includes a third party verification process.
On door to door sales there's now a requirement that "promised savings" be provided in a written statement, and that documentation is saved showing a legitimate "authorized switch."
"This will save consumers money because they won't be targeted. In the past bad actors have been targeting low income communities, non-English speaking communities into thinking that this electric supplier may be part of a known utility and their rates aren't going to increase and then they receive their first bill and there was an increase they weren't expecting," Oliva said.
The industry group Illinois Competitive Energy Association said the new rules are "...a middle ground compromise between consumer and competitive supplier interests that will provide stronger consumer protection safeguards and important market information so that residential customers can make informed decisions in their electric supply service choice."
"If we receive a complaint that one of these alternative retail suppliers has violated one of the sections of the rules, we can investigate and take enforcement action," Oliva said.
The rules go into effect Nov. 1. You should still make sure you read contracts in full before switching to an alternative electric supplier. Look for possible hidden fees, and it's important to know if you are agreeing to a variable rate which can go up and down with the market.
Compare plans: http://www.citizensutilityboard.org/cuttingelectricgasbills.html and http://www.pluginillinois.org/
ICC's Consumer Services Division for questions or complaints about alternative retail electric suppliers: 1-800-524-0795
Check Complaints in Illinois: http://www.pluginillinois.org/complaints.aspx