By Sagar Dommaraju
If you’re looking for a good reason to read your electricity and gas bills, just check out Vicki and Jim Pelton’s story. The retired Ottawa couple overpaid by $1,500, until CUB and a TV station worked to get them a full refund after 17 months of inflated rates.
Vicki and Jim didn’t understand why their gas bills had gotten so high, until Vicki took a long, hard look at them.
It turns out the Pelton’s gas supplier had been changed from Nicor Gas, the regulated utility, to an unregulated supplier called Spark Energy. Spark charged the Peltons a rate that got as high as five times Nicor’s price — what CUB called a “monumentally bad natural gas deal.” They had no idea how the switch occurred.
Multiple calls to Nicor to address the problem got them nowhere. “We don’t know if there’s fault or whose fault it is,” Jim Pelton told NBC 5 Chicago, in a story about their case. “But by gosh, you know, here we are and we can’t seem to get out of it.”
The Peltons finally turned to CUB for help. CUB Consumer Counselor Danielle Holmes investigated and discovered an enormous mistake. The Peltons never purchased Spark’s gas offer…but their neighbor did. A one-digit address error during the sign-up process somehow led to the Peltons becoming Spark customers instead of their neighbor.
Initially, Spark only offered to waive the last bill. That wasn’t good enough and Danielle approached CUB’s communications department to see if the media would be interested in the Peltons’ strange story.
That’s when CUB Communications Director Jim Chilsen reached out to NBC 5 Responds, a pro-consumer investigative team with the Chicago TV station. After NBC 5 approached Spark and asked a lot of questions about the case, the company decided to give the Peltons a full refund.
The retirees were ecstatic. “Thank you so much, Jim,” Vicki said in an email to CUB. “Please tell Danielle that we send our thanks. It only happened because of you two.”