Help Squad: CUB one-on-one analysis results in big utility bill savings

By Cathy Cunningham, Lake Zurich Courier, May 4, 2017

I recently took advantage of a free offering from the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) that could easily wind up saving me over $1,000 a year in electric, gas and phone bills. This was a one-on-one analysis of all three of my home utility bills conducted by a very knowledgeable CUB field representative at my local public library. In this column, I will attempt to share as much as I can about everything I learned, but there was honestly so much useful information, I highly recommend consumers sign up for a free CUB utility bill clinic themselves, if possible. For upcoming events, visit

Upon arrival, I was surprised to learn that AT&T is currently pushing two bills through the Illinois legislature to end requirements that it offer traditional landline service as of July 1, 2017 – SB1381 and HB2691. CUB is currently encouraging consumers to contact their elected officials to tell them to vote “no” on these bills.

Next, I sat down with Matt Harvey, CUB outreach field coordinator, who reviewed my bills, identified savings and made energy efficiency recommendations specific to my usage.

Home phone

Upon looking at my AT&T home phone bill, which hadn’t been re-negotiated since the Stone Age (back when landlines were all the rage), Harvey made several significant recommendations:

• He advised I switch to the Consumer’s Choice Basic local calling plan as I am currently paying for a lot of extra features I don’t use. The total charge for Consumer’s Choice Basic is around $20 per month. I was cautioned that Consumer’s Choice is an offering AT&T is not currently promoting so I may be told it’s not available when I call. I should be persistent, however. The package is still in AT&T’s tariffs and the company is currently required by Illinois law to provide it.

• He then suggested I sign up for long distance service through Pioneer Telephone, which bills on a per-call basis at a rate of three to four cents per minute. If no long distance calls are made, no bill is received. This would drop my long distance bill to around $12 a month.

• He also recommended removing Line-Backer, a protection plan that covers repairs to in-house wires and jacks at a cost of $8 per month, or $96 a year. Per Harvey (and my own experience) this is a service most never use.

Natural gas

Similar to AT&T’s Line-Backer coverage, Harvey suggested I eliminate Gas Line ComfortGuard from my Nicor bill – a cost of $4.95 per month. This monthly add-on covers the cost of any gas line repairs that might be needed in my home. However, over the course of the 14 years I’ve been paying for it, I’ve spent over $800, never had an issue and could likely cover the cost of any repair out-of-pocket for less.


Harvey shared with me a number of savings plans offered by ComEd. There’s really something for everyone, as long as consumers are willing and able to be a bit flexible with their energy usage (and they have a smart meter). There’s Peak Time Savings, the Hourly Pricing Program and Central AC Cycling, to name a few. Information on all is available at

Harvey additionally told me that switching to an alternative gas or electricity supplier is almost always a bad deal. In a recent study conducted by CUB, 94 percent of all alternative energy providers offered pricing that was more expensive than the standard suppliers.

Home energy assessment

And here was a little gem of a find: Harvey showed me that on every ComEd, Nicor and People’s Gas bill, there is a line item called “[Energy] Efficiency Program.” This charge of around $2 a month entitles consumers to a free home energy assessment coordinated by ComEd in partnership with Nicor and Peoples Gas. In addition to receiving a personalized report at the conclusion of the assessment, customers also receive – completely free of charge – CFL and LED bulbs for every fixture in their home, advanced power strips, programmable thermostats, faucet aerators, low-flow shower heads and hot water pipe insulation. Consumers can call 1-855-433-2700 for more information or to schedule an appointment.

Read the whole article here.