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Five big red flags in Illinois’ electric market

CUB today is releasing a report that shows how Illinois’ electricity market has become more confusing, more expensive, and more treacherous in just the last 12 months. And the watchdog is concerned that consumers who are seeing headlines about summer rate hikes will get scared into bad deals.

“Right now, it’s a buyer-beware electric market in Illinois,” CUB Director of Communications Jim Chilsen said.

While there are companies offering savings in the market—particularly through “municipal aggregation” deals in which a community negotiates a power price with a supplier—CUB also warned consumers to beware of these potential pitfalls:

Exorbitant rates: CUB calls on suppliers to be more transparent about their pricing. Consumers should ask for details on the price, and how it compares to ComEd’s rate, which on June 1 will be 7.596 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). CUB has heard complaints from consumers that prices have risen as high as 35 cents per kWh–about six times the utility rate at the time. 

Low introductory rates that disappear: Be careful about low introductory rates that shoot up after a short period. Always ask if the rate being offered is an introductory rate, how long it lasts, and what happens to the rate after the initial period.

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

Punishing exit fees: Many suppliers charge exit fees of up to $175 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 from a supplier.

High-pressure sales tactics. Beware of people who come to your door and say they’re from the “electric company.” Don’t give out your account number or power bill to anybody who asks for it. That person may be trying to “slam” you—sign you up for an offer without your permission. If you have any questions or doubts about an offer, please call CUB, at 1-800-669-5556, and we will do our best to answer your questions.

This information is especially important now that consumers have been seeing media reports of an increase in market rates for both alternative suppliers and ComEd beginning this summer. On June 1, ComEd’s new power price of 7.596 cents per kWh will be a 38 percent increase from its current price.

However, CUB’s report also highlighted potentially good deals in Illinois’ electric market right now. For more information, visit www.CUBSmartPower.com.