Illinois AG warns consumers about smart meter plans

An ABC7 I-Team Exclusive
CHICAGO (WLS) -- There's a new warning from the Illinois attorney general concerning the new smart meters, and people who may use the technology to take advantage of you.

If you don't have one already you will soon; ComEd says it has installed about 2 million smart meters. But the I-Team found that some businesses could use the new meters to sell you a questionable plan.

It's out with old analog meters and in with new digital ones. You can use them to save money by tracking your real time electricity use. But with the technology, comes a warning.

"So there is a lot of potential for consumers to be deceived and ultimately spend more money," Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said.

Madigan says unregulated, alternative energy suppliers will soon be asking for authorization to to read smart meters, so they can sell customized electric plans based on user habits.

Some of those plans could save you money but it also opens the door for potential bad deals.

"They may come to your home, they may call you on the phone, maybe they will send you something in the mail asking you to sign that authorization," Madigan said.

Madigan says you never have to give anyone authorization to read your smart meter, which contains private details.

"There is a possibility they will be able to determine whether or not people are in the home when they are not in the home. Some people may not feel comfortable sharing that information," Madigan said.

If you decide to buy a new smart meter plan from an alternative supplier, make sure you read the details.

Madigan says some could charge a fee if you violate terms of the agreement, like using your washing machine or dishwasher during the day, instead of late at night. Others could have variable rates which may skyrocket.

"People are always coming telling you to switch and saying you asked for certain things. I just turn them away," said Nadine Scott, of Chicago.

Madigan also warns that "smart" doesn't mean the new meters will automatically save energy or money.

"We can also allow you to set something called a high usage alert," said Val Jensen, of ComEd.

ComEd says smart meter customers should download the app to get notifications or texts.

"With a smart meter we will send you an alert if your usage is trending higher than normal so that you can adjust that in the course of a billing cycle," Jensen said.

There are also free programs where you can get alerts when demand is high.

"Customers can participate in a program called peak time savings which allows them to reduce energy consumption at high demand times and we will pay them for that," Jensen said.

ComEd also points out that smart meters have reduced operating costs, automatically saving customers about $1 a month in delivery fees.

ComEd also urges customers to research all plans with alternative energy suppliers, before you buy one.


"ICEA believes that ComEd and Ameren customers need to be aware that alternative retail electric suppliers must abide by strict ICC regulations that safeguard electric customers privacy and control supplier access to their meter data as both utilities modernize the grid. As part of that modernization, suppliers may access such customer data in order to offer products and services to help customers manage their electric usage and costs. However, customers decide whether they want to provide that information, and they should be informed about authorizing access to their electric usage data. ICEA welcomes the Attorney General Office's role in educating consumers about their rights, but its dire prediction about alternative supplier behavior is unwarranted at this time."
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