South suburban mom scores smart thermostat

20160807_thermostatwinner_fbSaving energy and money have always been top priorities for Anam El-Jabli and her family. But the purchase of a new air conditioner last year made it hard for them to afford other appliances.

Then the stay-at-home mom read about CUB’s Smart Thermostat Giveaway in the group’s weekly e-newsletter.

“I’m an active follower of CUB’s emails and take action regularly,” Anam said. “That includes signing petitions to state regulators, and participating in polls and giveaways.”

For Anam, the giveaway served as a chance to score a high-tech thermostat—which would allow her to remotely control her home’s temperature from a smartphone or tablet.

She knew it was an opportunity she just couldn’t pass up, especially since entry into the drawing was quick and simple. All she had to do was answer a quick poll asking if she owned a smart thermostat.

Anam didn’t own one—until now.

The Alsip mom beat out 1,600 Illinois consumers to take home the ecobee3—a device that can “learn” her family’s behavior over time to optimize comfort and generate savings. It could save her up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs.

“The giveaway came just at the right time,” Anam said. “This will be the first smart device we’ve ever owned, and we couldn’t be more excited to win.”

Besides being an avid CUB supporter, Anam advocates for environmental and human rights issues in her community. That gives her even greater respect for the work CUB does for Illinois consumers.

“I really appreciate that [CUB] champions for utility consumers,” Anam said. “We need more people to get involved and learn about our rights.”

Posted in Consumer Victories, CUB, CUB Contest, CUB survey, Efficiency, electric, Electric bills, Energy, energy efficiency, Environment, Saving Money, savings, smart thermostat, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Q&A: The Attorney General’s Settlement with Ethical Electric

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has reached a settlement with a Washington, D.C.-based  alternative electricity supplier, Ethical Electric Inc., for misleading direct mail solicitations of its “green” offers.

Under the settlement, Ethical, which has been a top source of consumer questions or complaints to CUB, promises to pay customers refunds.

What was wrong with Ethical’s offers?

The Attorney General’s office said the company misled consumers about its “Clean Energy Option” offer, making it appear that customers would get power exclusively from renewable sources, like wind and solar power.

The company also made it seem as if its price would only be slightly higher than ComEd’s price, when in fact it was at least 5 percent higher, the attorney general said. CUB has discovered Ethical prices that were more than 30 percent higher than the utility price. The offer would only stay fixed for a few months, before switching to a variable rate that changed monthly.

What are the terms of the settlement?

Ethical must……

  • issue refunds to customers
  • discontinue use of the product name “Clean Energy Option”
  • provide clear and detailed information on what its “green” energy plan actually is.

Also, if the company references ComEd’s prices in its marketing, it will have to provide a side-by-side comparison of its price with the utility’s rate, under the settlement.

Who is eligible to receive a refund?

Residential customers in Illinois who enrolled in the Clean Energy Option through Ethical’s mailings will automatically receive a refund of about $10. That will be in the form of a credit for current customers and via check for former customers.

Customers who believe they were misled by Ethical Electric’s marketing materials may request an additional refund for the amount they overpaid compared with ComEd’s price. All customers will be mailed a refund-request form within the next 45 days, Madigan said.

Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Ethical will have to pay at least $191,673, but the Attorney General’s office estimates that the refunds could amount to nearly $3 million, depending on the number of consumers who request them.

What is a green offer?

Attorney General Madigan said Ethical’s Clean Energy Option solicitations gave customers the false impression that their homes would be powered exclusively by renewable energy, such as wind and solar. In reality, it’s impossible to guarantee that.

The electricity that gets pumped into your home comes from a mixture of sources, including nuclear and coal plants, as well as renewables. As with all green plans, Ethical’s so-called “Clean Energy Option” offered renewable energy certificates or “RECs.” Basically, that’s a promise that for the electricity you use, an equal amount will be used somewhere on the grid.

Read CUB’s fact sheet on RECs. Also, read our electricity shopping guide for ComEd and Ameren customers.

Posted in Alternative electric/gas suppliers, electric, Electric bills, Energy, Environment | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fight for a $30 M Ameren rate cut

You may have heard that Ameren proposed a $14 million electric rate cut, to take effect on Jan. 1, 2017. Now, CUB and other consumer advocates have analyzed Ameren’s filing—and we argue that the company owes you an even bigger decrease: $30 million.

Here’s how you can help us in this battle: Please send a message to the ICC

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Posted in Ameren, Electric bills | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Act now! Fight irritating, illegal robocalls

20160809_robocalls_fbToday, CUB asked Illinois consumers to sign a petition to fight illegal “robocalls.”

It’s the perfect time to take action, now that Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler has urged big phone companies to give customers free technology to block these computer-generated telemarketing calls.

We’re all annoyed by these calls, but they’re more than just a nuisance. Consumers Union estimates that scam artists use robocalls to help them rob people of $350 million a year.

After years of foot-dragging, maybe the industry is finally ready to take substantive action. In response to Wheeler, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson announced he would lead a “strike force” against robocalling. Wheeler urged other phone companies to get involved and produce a plan to combat robocalls in 60 days.

Let’s make sure Illinois’ big phone companies (AT&T, Verizon, Frontier) know we’re watching, and we expect results. Sign CUB’s petition and turn the heat up on Big Telecom.

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Posted in AT&T, Cellphone, Frontier, Landlines, Phone, Scams, Telecom, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We’ve got a winner!

Anam E. of Alsip has won CUB’s Thermostat Giveaway. Congratulations Anam!

Anam’s name was pulled from among 1,600 other hopefuls to win the high-tech thermostat, which allows consumers to remotely control a home’s temperature from a smartphone or tablet.

CUB asked people to answer a quick poll on whether they owned a smart thermostat, which can cut heating and cooling costs by 20 percent. Everyone who answered the quick poll was entered in the giveaway.

Of 1,607 respondents, the vast majority said they did not own a thermostat. Now would be a good time to buy one, because of unprecedented rebates.

Northern Illinois customers are eligible to receive rebates of up to $150 on select smart thermostats. The rebates could cover more than half the cost of the devices, which normally retail for about $249.

Ameren customers can take advantage of a rebate of up to $100.

Check with your utilities for more details:

ComEd

Nicor Gas

Peoples Gas

North Shore Gas

Ameren

Want a chance to win more great prizes? Take our cable quick poll by noon, Wednesday, August 31.

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ICC report: Northern Illinoisans losing money with alternative electric suppliers

By Sagar Dommaraju

Northern Illinois consumers with alternative electricity suppliers have lost $188.6 million over the last two years, according to the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) in an  annual electric competition report.

The ICC’s Office of Retail Market Development said in its annual report that Illinois consumers with another supplier lost $73.4 million from June 2014 through May of 2015, and another $115.2 million the following year.

The market wasn’t always like this. From 2011 to 2014, the report shows, customers saved more than $320 million with alternative suppliers—largely because ComEd was locked into higher priced electricity contracts for most of that period. Once those contracts expired in June of 2013, it became more difficult for competitors to beat ComEd’s price.

The moral of the story is: The market has changed. Make sure you’re not signing up for a bad deal!

CUB is working closely with the ICC to pass stronger consumer protections for electric shoppers. Meanwhile, follow CUB’s tips to help you protect yourself.

First, keep an eye out for red flags: Exorbitant rates, low introductory rates that disappear, extra fees, and punishing exit fees. Second, don’t give out your utility bill or account number to just anybody who asks for it. If you do, a less than honest sales rep could sign you up for an electric deal–even if you don’t want to sign up.

Finally, if you’re not sure about an offer, consult our electricity shopping guides for ComEd and Ameren customers. If you still have questions after reading the guides, call CUB (1-800-669-5556).

Posted in Alternative electric/gas suppliers, Ameren, ComEd, Scams | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Win a Thermostat: Quick Poll Deadline Extended!

20160712_thermostatquickpoll_fbBy Sagar Dommaraju

CUB has extended the deadline for its smart thermostat giveaway to midnight Wednesday, August 3.

Take CUB’s quick poll and you could be randomly selected to win a free smart thermostat, valued at up to $250.

If you take the poll, we’ll also send you information on smart thermostat rebates (up to $150 for ComEd, $100 for Ameren) available this summer.

Smart thermostats are devices connected to Wi-Fi that allow you to remotely modify your temperature settings from your smartphone, tablet, or home computer. They are designed to give consumers more control over their energy usage and utility costs, all while maintaining comfort during the hot summers and cold winters.

Please consider taking our poll—it takes a few seconds!

ComEd customers can take the poll here!

Ameren customers can take the poll here!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment