Citizen's Utility Board lists Chicago's "worst electric deals"

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation

Jason Knowles Image
Monday, January 26, 2015
Citizen?s Utility Board lists Chicago?s worst electric deals
Chicago?s Citizen?s Utility Board is releasing its list of what it calls the ?worst electric deals? in Northern Illinois.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago's Citizen's Utility Board is releasing its list of what it calls the "worst electric deals" in Northern Illinois.

Consumer experts at CUB say that some of the most expensive plans, all from "unregulated" suppliers, are up to 93 percent more than the "regulated" rate of Com Ed.

"We like to warn customers of potentially bad deals out there," says Jim Chilsen of CUB. "We like to warn customers of high prices out there. It is a 'buyer beware' market."

CUB says it analyzed all of the area's unregulated plans, which do not include special rates that may have been negotiated by cities and towns, like Chicago's deal with Integrys.

According to CUB, the worst rates as of Jan. 21 are:

  • Ambit Energy: 14.65 cents per kWh variable rate
  • Ambit Energy: 13.65 cents per kWh variable rate
  • Starion Energy: 12.99 cents per kWh variable rate, $7.95 monthly fee
  • Viridian: 11.9 cents per kWh variable rate
  • Ethical Electric: 11.6 cents per kWh 12-month fixed rate

By comparison, the regulated Com Ed rate is currently 7.6 cents per kWh hour.

Monday afternoon, an Ethical Electric spokesperson responded to CUB's report, saying: "Ethical Electric's power is 100% renewable including energy from Illinois wind farms, and unlike ComEd or most other energy providers, we have no ties to fossil fuels. CUB's comparison is misleading because including clean energy on the same list as dirty energy ignores environmental costs like asthma or lung cancer. Our customers pay a slight premium for cleaner energy and air. We have only a .0006% CUB complaint ratio, and no exit or cancel fees - meaning there's no 'gotcha' if a customer isn't satisfied with our service."

CUB admits that man of the companies with the high variable rates may also offer more affordable rates.

"We are focusing on the highest rates to warn consumes of what to avoid," says Chilsen, "but these companies may offer lower rates, the market may offer lower rates. There are still savings to be found in the Illinois electric market."

However, Chilsen says, in the last 18 months the unregulated market, overall, has become more expensive.

CUB warns consumers to be skeptical of plans with the following features:

Low introductory rates that disappear: Introductory rates can shoot up after a short period. Ask if the rate is an intro rate, how long it lasts and what the new rate will be.

Extra fees: Always ask if there is a monthly fee, and if there is, factor that into the per kWh price.

Punishing exit fees: Suppliers may charge exit fees of up to $200 if a customer leaves a plan before the contract is up. Under the law, customers are allowed to leave a contract without paying an exit fee within 10 days after the date of the first bill.

High-pressure sales tactics: Beware of people at your door who say they're from the "electric company." Don't give out your account number or power bill to just anybody who asks for it. That person may be trying to sign you up for an offer without your permission

"If somebody is saying, let me see your bill I want to check if you qualify for this low rate, let me see your account number don't do it," Chilsen says. "That could be someone trying to sign you up without your permission."

The organization also offers the following tips for lowering the electric rate for any plan:

1) Install energy efficient lighting. Compact fluorescent lights use only a quarter of the energy of conventional bulbs and last many times longer.

2) Use a Drying Rack

People have been drying clothes for all of human history on rocks, racks or lines. Since clothes dryers use an enormous amount of energy, using a drying rack or clothesline is a no-cost clean alternative that eliminates the cost of drying clothes.

3) Unplug Kitchen Appliances

Your kitchen appliances use a considerable amount of energy even when they are not in operation. You can cut down on this "phantom load" by unplugging your appliances when not in use. Use a power strip to effectively unplug multiple appliances with a single flick of a switch.

4) Microwave Your Food

Microwave ovens use considerably less energy to cook food than conventional ovens.

5) Turn Off Coffee Maker After Brewing

There's no need to keep the coffee hot after we've poured a cup for ourselves. So turn off your coffee maker after you make the coffee. The hot plate on your coffee maker uses a lot of energy and all it is really doing is keeping increasingly stale coffee warm.

6) Wash Larger Loads of Dishes

Make sure you fill the dishwasher before starting it - you'll save time, energy and money. The fewer times you run the dishwasher, the more water, heating energy and electricity you will save. Wait until your dishwasher is completely full with dishes before running it.

7) Clean Your Dryer's Lint Filter

We've all been taught to clean the lint filter in our dryer, but many of us don't do it as often as we should. A clogged lint filter will significantly increase the time and energy needed to dry your clothes.

CUB will release its top 10 list of its worst deals to the public Tuesday.