Competitors go after ComEd customers

March 10, 2011 2:48:30 PM PST
Illinois residents now have five alternatives to Commonwealth Edison for electricity. But experts suggest reading the fine print before switching companies.

One Chicago-based company hoping to compete with the electric giant says their main obstacle is that most people still don't know they have the choice or what their options are.

"I think people are excited to have a choice. We provide a discount to ComEd's standard rate and we're able to provide options like green energy," said Aaron Rasty, president of Blue Star Energy.

But what is a consumer looking to switch to Blue Star or any other company need to know before doing so? The most important thing, experts say, is to realize that no matter which company residents opt for, ComEd will still be involved.

"There are two component parts to your bill. There is the wires, the poles, the labor. And then there is the cost of the electricity itself. If you switch, you're switching the energy portion of your bill?Power will still be delivered by ComEd," said David Kolata, Citizens Utility Board.

That means that if ComEd raises its delivery rates, as it's actively seeking to do, customers who switch to another energy provider will still have to pay that increase.

"I just don't feel it's fair for them to want to change utility rates annually. There are many of us who are retired," said Jean Howard, ComEd customer.

While it's still too early to tell whether the new competition for residential business will be a good thing for customers, so far all five companies actively promoting themselves in Illinois are offering rates that appear to be lower than ComEd's. The key, says the Citizens Utility Board, is to be an educated consumer.

"Read the contract. Sometimes there are things in the fine print, including high cancellation fees if you change your mind, so you want to know exactly what you're signing up for. In general, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," said Kolata.