What’s the deal with my data?

20140429_DataGuide_blogCell phones have changed a lot since they were introduced 40 years ago (remember those old brick phones?).  Nowadays, not only can you talk and text from your mobile phone, but you can send email, play games, navigate trips, check the weather and listen to music.

But all those bells and whistles take up data—and that raises a lot of questions.

How is data measured? How much data do I need?  How can I lower my data usage?  What different plans are available?  What’s the best deal for my family?

Fortunately, CUB has compiled a guide to help you answer these questions and more.

More questions?  Call our consumer hotline at 1-800-669-5556.

What’s your worst utility bill?

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2014 has already been a rough year for consumers.  Natural gas price spikes.  Brutal electric rate-hike requests.  Ominous cable mergers.  It’s enough to tear your hair out!

CUB is ready to crown Illinois’ most hated bill, and needs your input.  What’s your biggest utility bill headache: Electric? Gas? Phone? Cable?

Vote by noon Friday and you could win $25 off your next utility bill, plus a money-saving energy efficiency kit that includes an LED bulb and a smart power strip!  And be sure to share with your friends!

Fed up with soaring utility rates? Guv says: YES!

Gov. Quinn showed off his original CUB envelope at Monday's celebration
Gov. Quinn showed off his original CUB envelope at Monday’s celebration

As the story goes, in the early 1980s a young activist trying to build support in Springfield for the creation of the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) bumped into a ComEd lobbyist who wore a three-piece suit. “Never in a million years” would there be a CUB, the lobbyist proclaimed.

CUB was created, of course.  And that young activist eventually became governor, while the lobbyist never got out of the starting gate. “Thirty years later we’re here and he’s still looking for his gym shoes,” Gov. Pat Quinn said, sparking applause and chuckles at CUB’s 30th birthday party Monday night.

Former CUB Executive Director Marty Cohen and board member Philip DeMaertelaere were on hand to celebrate CUB's 30th birthday
Former CUB Executive Director Marty Cohen and board member Philip DeMaertelaere were on hand to celebrate CUB’s 30th birthday

A who’s who of Illinois consumer advocacy gathered at the celebration, including Jack Darin, head of Illinois’ Sierra Club; Marty Cohen, former head of CUB and chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC); and Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and the first head of CUB’s board of directors.

“CUB has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams,” Learner said. “It’s sensational.”

Creating the consumer group was a team effort, but Quinn is called “CUB’s founding father” because as a young activist he spearheaded a statewide referendum movement. In 1983, after voters in 114 Illinois communities passed an advisory referendum in support of CUB, the General Assembly passed the CUB Act.

Gov. Quinn chats with CUB staff (from left to right) Pat Clark, Julie Soderna, and Christie Hicks at Monday's 30th Anniversary Celebration
Gov. Quinn chats with CUB staff (from left to right) Pat Clark, Julie Soderna, and Christie Hicks at Monday’s 30th Anniversary Celebration

The consumer group opened its doors the next year and has since saved Illinois consumers more than $10 billion.  But the battles are the same as they ever were, and Gov. Quinn paid homage to CUB’s roots as he produced an original CUB fundraising envelope from his pockets Monday night.

“Are you fed up with soaring utility rates?” he governor asked, reading off the envelope. Then he answered his own question with a resounding “Yes!”

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“We really have the best staff in the business,” CUB Executive Director Dave Kolata said.

The utility world has changed a lot since 1984, when nobody had heard of the smart grid and cellphones were a novelty so bulky they were called bricks. But CUB has weathered it all.

“We really have the best staff in the business, and I couldn’t be more proud to work with them,” CUB Executive Director David Kolata said. “Consumers will always need someone in their corner and CUB will always hold that ground.”

Quinn quipped that CUB is just getting started: “The first 30 years are the toughest. Now we’re ready to go.”

CUB’s Earth Day Giveaway has a winner!

20140425_EarthDayWinner_fbCongratulations to Sarah, the winner of CUB’s Earth Day Giveaway! She’s just won $25 off her next utility bill as well as an energy efficiency kit: an LED, a smart power strip, and a Kill A Watt.

Runner-up winners were Nancy and Mary-Jo. Each will receive an LED bulb. Congrats!

Sarah, Nancy and Mary-Jo were randomly selected from more than 1,000 people who entered the giveaway. The kit has the potential to cut utility bills by hundreds of dollars a year. Here’s more detail on the contents:Kill A Watt

The Kill A WattPlug electronics and appliances into this device to instantly find out how much electricity they’re using, and how much money they’re costing you. The Kill A Watt helps you hunt down energy hogs so you can save money. (Cost: $30)

LED

LED light bulbAn LED can save you up to $100 over its lifetime, which can be a quarter of a century. LEDs are fully dimmable and can be used in a variety of sockets. (Cost: $10 per bulb on up)

Smart power stripSmart power strip. When you shut off your TV, it’s likely that your DVD player, video game console and speakers stay on. That adds up on your power bill. A smart power strip eliminates this “vampire power” by plugging your television into a “control” outlet. The strip then automatically detects when that device is powered off, and cuts off power to connected devices. Smart power strips also contain “constant hot” outlets that are not connected to the control device. That means electronics you may want on standby, like a cable box, won’t power down completely when your TV is off. (Cost: $30)

Brutal April: Ameren, ComEd ask for $481 M in electric rate hikes

We knew these rate-hike requests were coming, but they still hurt. In April, ComEd 20140425_RateHikes_fband Ameren have asked for a total of $481 million in rate hikes, which would take effect in January 2015. Here’s CUB’s statement:

“This month, Ameren and ComEd have filed for $481 million in electric rate hikes—about $206.4 million for Ameren and $275 million for ComEd—to pay for upgrades to their power grid. After a painfully expensive winter, this is the last news Illinois electric customers want to hear. That’s why CUB will analyze every penny of the companies’ rate-hike requests and do our best to eliminate unjustified spending and reduce the proposed increases as much as possible. These power grid improvements, if done right, should pay for themselves in the long run, but the key moving forward is to hold ComEd and Ameren accountable. The companies must live up to their promises of building a more reliable and more affordable power grid for Illinois consumers. We’re getting the bill for these improvements, so we deserve the benefits.”

The ComEd increase would hit bills by about $3 per month. Take a look at what Ameren’s increase would do to bills:

Zone 1 (formerly AmerenCIPS): $9.55/month (13%) for general use; $11.85/month (10%) for space heat.
Zone 2 (formerly AmerenCILCO): $6.37/month (8%) for general use; $6.68/month (6%) for space heat.
Zone 3 (formerly AmerenIP): $8.45/month (11%) for general use; $10.86/month ($9%) for space heat.

On our Facebook page this morning, we announced that our rate-hike battles now total more than $1 billion.

Visit CUB’s 30th Anniversary Page!

20140424_HappyBirthday_blogIt’s CUB’s big 3-0!

Visit CUB’s 30th Anniversary page to read a message from Executive Director Dave Kolata, peruse heartwarming stories from Illinois consumers, and see a slideshow of CUB’s “greatest hits” through the years.

(Seriously, those pictures are not to be missed– especially if you want to see Illinois’ big players in action, or if you enjoy general cute-ness!)

CUB opened its doors in 1984 to represent the interests of residential and small-business utility customers.  Since then, we’ve had a hand in saving consumers more than $10 billion in landmark victories against the big utilities, including:

  • Preventing a $1.9 billion ComEd rate deal in 1987, securing a record $224 million in phone credits for consumers in 2002, and winning a record-breaking $100 million gas refund in 2006.
  • Launching helpful online tools like CUB’s Local Phone Cost-cutter, which has showed consumers how to save up to $10 million, and CUBEnergySaver.com, which has helped homes save an average of about $100 a year.
  • Notching legislative victories. Shortly after CUB opened its doors, the consumer group won landmark reforms to state utility laws. Regulators were now required to conduct audits of nuclear plant construction costs and to disallow imprudent spending. CUB also secured a record 20 percent electric rate cut under the 2007 electric restructuring law.
  • Consumer Education and Assistance. In 2013 alone, CUB held about 400 money-saving events, showing consumers how to cut bills by a total of $15,293. CUB also handled thousands of consumer complaints, helping people save a total of $16,800.

We’ll be celebrating these victories and more at our 30th Anniversary celebration on Monday, April 28th at Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse, where we will be joined by a special guest, Gov. Pat Quinn.  For more information or to RSVP, visit here.  Hope to see you then!

Get the facts on natural gas prices

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Jaws dropped as gas prices skyrocketed in the early months of 2014–as much as 150 percent for Peoples Gas customers.

CUB is here to answer your collective “huh?”

Our Facts on Natural Gas Prices  explains the forces behind gas prices, and the steps consumers can take to save money during these expensive times.

The fact sheet answers questions we’ve gotten from a lot of red-faced ratepayers:

  • What causes natural gas prices to rise?
  • What part of my bill goes up as gas prices go up?
  • Why are the utilities allowed to raise prices so high?
  • Who profits off high gas prices?
  • What about alternative gas suppliers?
  • What can I do about high gas prices?
  • …and more!

If you have additional questions, call our consumer hotline at 1-800-669-5556.

Happy Earth Week

20140421_EarthDay_blogIt looks like spring is finally rearing its head in Illinois just in time for Earth Week! To celebrate our planet–and the thousands of awesome, loyal CUB members who have stood by us for 30 years–CUB is hosting a special Earth Day Giveaway.

One grand prize winner will walk away with a shiny new energy efficiency kit that includes a Smart Power Strip (a device that automatically cuts off power to appliances and electronics not in use), a Kill A Watt (a device that tells you how much electricity your appliances are using), a money-saving LED bulb, and $25 off your next utility bill!

Two runner-ups will receive an energy-efficient LED bulb, which can save up to $100 over the course of the bulb’s lifetime.

Energy efficiency takes care of our planet and your bills–talk about a win-win!  Enter our giveaway now  for a chance to win great Earth Week prizes!

Congrats, Carole!

20140421_CongratsCarole_blogThe loyalty of CUB members is simply astounding.

Take for example Carole J. of Elgin, who has been a CUB supporter ever since the organization helped her dispute a hefty utility bill years ago.

“I wasn’t even a member back then,” she says, “but I have been a member ever since.”

We wanted to give back to the dedicated members who have stood by us through three decades of battles for consumers.  With this in mind, CUB hosted a special light bulb giveaway last week for our most active followers.  These are brave souls who have joined our Consumer Defense Team to help fight up to $1 billion in consumer battles this year and/or have sent a special message to the FCC asking the regulatory agency to reject the proposed Comcast/Time Warner merger if the companies don’t agree to specific consumer protections.

We are very happy to announce long-time member Carole as the winner of our CFL giveaway!  She will receive five high-efficiency, money-saving CFL bulbs for her support over the years.

“CUB serves as an important watchdog for the public,” she said. “I’m proud to support its efforts.”

We’re proud to have members like you, Carole!

Thanks to everyone who participated in the CFL giveaway.  If you didn’t get a chance to enter this drawing, don’t worry: we’ll be hosting many more in the upcoming year in honor of our 30th Anniversary. (In fact, if I were you, I’d keep a special eye on CUB’s e-newsletter tomorrow!)

C’mon! ComEd asks for $275 million rate hike

ComEd has put in another request for a rate hike–this one for $275 million, to take effect in January. That’s the last news anybody wants to hear after our brutal winter. Here’s CUB’s statement:

“Today, Commonwealth Edison asked for a $275 million rate hike to pay for upgrades to its power grid. These improvements, if done right, should pay for themselves in the long run, but the key moving forward is to hold ComEd accountable. That’s why CUB will scrutinize ever penny of this rate-hike request, and do our best to reduce it as much as possible. A rate increase is never welcome news for CUB or Illinois consumers, and that’s why it’s so important that ComEd live up to its promises of building a more reliable power grid that helps consumers cut their costs. Illinois consumers deserve the benefits, not just the bill.”