Energy plan surge: I-Team warning about electric, gas bill contracts

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation

Jason Knowles Image
Friday, October 9, 2015
Energy plan surge
If you're not watching your bills closely, you could end up stuck paying a lot more for your gas and electricity.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- If you're not watching your bills closely, you could end up stuck paying a lot more for your gas and electricity. The I-Team got results for one woman who had a $400 bill.

Two customers of the unregulated supplier Spark Energy called the I-Team, saying their monthly bills went up by hundreds of dollars.

They say when they called the supplier, they were told their previous plans had expired and they were bumped into a new, more expensive one. And they aren't alone.

Rosemary Wire lives in a two bedroom bungalow in Chicago Heights - so imagine her surprise when she saw her recent electric bills. One for $225, another in August for nearly $400.

"And I am here alone. You know I don't have a bunch of people around. I'm very frugal with my energy, and conservative," Wire said.

Wire says when she called her electric supplier, Spark Energy, she was told she failed to renew her fixed rate plan.

The company bumped her into a plan with a variable rate. That can cost a whole lot more if the cost of energy goes up on the open market.

Spark Energy told the I-Team, "When a contract expires without a renewal from the customer, they are automatically transitioned to a variable rate."

"I should have gotten some kind of notice. Like 'We're going to put you into this high program,'" Wire said.

ABC7's Jason Knowles: "But you didn't get anything?"

Wire: "Nothing. Nothing. Nothing."

A Spark Energy spokesperson says the company did send Wire a written notice.

The company claims Diana Sershon got the same notice about her plan.

Last winter, Sershon's bills surged hundreds of dollars when Spark Energy put her into the variable rate plan.

She admits to having a past due balance, but blames that mostly on the increased rate.

"They need to be honest with people and upfront, and if someone's in a contract and the contract's ending, they need to send them a notice and let them know that the contract's going to be up and what do you want to do about it," Sershon said.

Spark Energy says it "mails contract expiration notices 60 days before the contract expires. In addition, when possible, we exceed the guidelines by sending an email to residents 30 days before contract expiration and proactively call customers..."

"The electric market shouldn't be a game of gotcha," said Jim Chilsen of the Citizens Utility Board.

But the Citizens Utility Board says it's received seven similar complaints in 2015.

"That can be a rude awakening for somebody who thought they're getting into one deal, and suddenly they're finding out they're paying a much higher rate," Chilsen said.

The ABC7 I-Team got results.

Spark Energy thanked "ABC7 for bringing this to our attention. As a result, we've been able to work directly with Ms. Wire on this matter, and she reports she is satisfied with the resolution."

Wire tells the I-Team she's accepting a credit for about $300.

"Put it back to where it should have been, don't make me pay this - this is a lot of money," Wire said.

Wire says she's happy with resolution - no word yet on the outcome of the other customer's dispute.

Both have cancelled their Spark Energy plans.

Spark has a two out of five star rating with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) when it comes to its volume of complaints.

Spark didn't comment about its ICC rating.


Scorecard that ranks suppliers by average rate of complaints for the entire residential market:

Customer complaint statistics link that categorizes the complaints: