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CUB’s guide to avoiding bad gas deals

Gas customers in Illinois have the option of choosing an unregulated alternative gas company instead of the regulated utility for their gas supply.  Making the right choice, however, can be hard work!  And now that utility heating prices are at their lowest in nearly 15 years, it is more important than ever to do your homework.

See CUB’s consumer alert about the highest gas prices in Northern Illinois, and watch WGN TV’s coverage of our campaign to protect consumers.

If you decide to take a gamble in the Illinois gas market, be sure to check out the free tools and resources CUB provides to help you be a savvy shopper and avoid bad deals:

  • Natural Gas Price Checker— Use this tool to find out what the utilities are charging for gas each month.
  • CUB’s Choice Fact Sheets— See a listing, updated weekly, of alternative supplier offers in your area.  (Nicor customers can see the “Customer Select” fact sheets; Peoples Gas/North Shore Gas customers can see the “Choices for You” fact sheets.)
  • Gas Market Monitor— CUB’s Gas Market Monitor provides a monthly snapshot of how thousands of alternative gas supply plans have fared since 2003.  The free service estimates that some 94 percent of plans offered over the history of the gas market have been money-losers compared to the regulated utility prices.

Always compare the rate of any offer to what you will be paying with the regulated utility’s rates.  Because the regulated utility is still responsible for delivering your gas, you will still receive a bill from either Nicor Gas, Peoples Gas, or North Shore Gas. At right, we show where alternative suppliers would appear on your bills.

When shopping, also beware these these red flags:

  • Low introductory rates that 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.
  • Variable rates.  A variable rate changes unpredictably from month-to-month.  A fixed-rate plan, on the other hand, stays constant throughout the length of a contract.  Make sure you know which type of plan you will be on before signing up.
  • Extra fees: Ask if there is a monthly fee, and if so, factor that into the per therm price.
  • Punishing exit fees: Is there an exit fee if you want to leave a plan before the contract is up? Under 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 plans that seem to promise savings on your gas bill, because nobody has a crystal ball to determine future prices. If it sounds too good to be true, it might be.  Don’t give out your account number or gas bill to just anybody who asks for it. That person may be trying to sign you up for an offer without your permission.

If you have any questions about an offer, call CUB’s toll-free Consumer Hotline at 1-800-669-5556.