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We’ve seen too many rip-offs like this

Bryan McDaniel, CUB’s director of governmental affairs

Bryan McDaniel, CUB’s director of governmental affairs, gave this report after a recent utility bill clinic in Elgin:

Last night I sat down with a nice woman by the name of “Paige.” Paige does not have her own car and someone gave her a ride to the event. She had braces on her legs, needed information about phones for the hard of hearing, and during the course of the conversation she mentioned her past-due medical bills. Paige, like all of us, is just trying to navigate life, except her physical ailments and economic standing make her row tougher to hoe.

So after Paige sat down and took out her ComEd bill, anger flowed through me as I identified an electric supplier, IDT Energy, that was charging her nearly double for electricity: 13.13 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) this past month. The ComEd price is only about 7 cents per kWh until May of next year.

Paige used 603 kWh in the past month.  She has a “Space Heat” account, meaning she uses electricity to heat her home, so she could have paid abnormally high bills all year long, not just the summer months. The supply portion of Paige’s bill—what was due IDT—amounted to $79.  Had Paige been on ComEd’s supply rate, she would have only paid about $42. So with IDT, she overpaid by $37 for her electricity last month.

Paige also told me she had signed up for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) within the last couple weeks and had been accepted for the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP), both programs that CUB supports to help people stay current on their utility bills.

The fact that Paige paid 13.13 cents per kWh means she needed a bigger LIHEAP benefit to help pay her bills. It also means other people who need help with their utility bills don’t receive assistance. Far too often, we see a bad deal from an alternative supplier gobbling up precious LIHEAP dollars that already can’t cover all the people who need help paying their bills.

Paige was not the only clinic participant paying IDT Energy’s 13.13 cents per kWh rate. Another told me she lived in a trailer park and was trying to save money “to finally get divorced and move on.” Her electric bill wasn’t helping.

It is simply wrong that many customers of alternative suppliers are being overcharged every time they turn on the light, open the refrigerator door, or charge their cellphone. We have a moral imperative to act. That’s why we travel the state helping people avoid gas and electric rip-offs.