By Samantha Vercellino
Recently, a CUB staffer found a pitch for Comcast’s Energy Rewards plan in his email inbox. We decided to take a closer look at the deal. These are the kinds of questions you should ask when judging any offer in Illinois’ electric market.
- What’s in the fine print? Comcast’s email pitch opens with this confident statement: “We can help you lower your energy cost!” (The subject line itself says: “You have the power to lower your energy costs.“) But be cautious of pitches that appear to guarantee savings. Comcast promises 5 percent savings compared with ComEd, but always dive into the fine print to understand if that promise is what you think it is.
- What’s the price? The 5 percent savings is not off the utility’s “price to compare,” as quoted in the state of Illinois’ PlugInIllinois site. It’s actually 5 percent off a “utility price index,” which is listed in a confusing chart next to other mysterious prices, such as the “capacity index” and “ancillary index.” We had a hard time determining how exactly the company comes up with the “utility price index” from month-to-month. In the five months of index prices that the company displayed in its chart, the Energy Rewards plan did offer some savings (less than a penny per kWh) compared with ComEd’s actual price. However one month appeared to be close to a wash and in another the Comcast rate appeared to be slightly higher than the ComEd price. The company does not charge an exit fee for this plan, so you can get out at any time. (Just remember, it can take up to two months to terminate an alternative supplier plan.)
- What happens next? My mom always told me “Nothing lasts forever,” and that’s good advice for dealing with alternative suppliers. According to the terms and conditions, after a year, the 5 percent savings Energy Rewards plan switches to a regular variable rate “with no guaranteed savings.” CUB has a database full of complaints from people who enjoyed a low promotional rate for a month, or two, or even 12, only to see their price later shoot through the roof. Unfortunately, you can’t predict where the Comcast variable rate will go after those 12 months, and just like a credit card introductory rate, you need to pay close attention to the term of your agreement and when it will renew under different terms.
- What’s with the perks? Comcast sweetens its electricity offer with a cable TV deal (you have to be a Comcast customer to sign up for Energy Rewards), a $20 prepaid card, and even a couple of movie tickets. In fact, the company includes those perks in its “estimated first year value” of the power deal: $150. I like movies too, but a couple of tickets do nothing to cut my power bills. Don’t let the perks distract you from assessing the actual electricity deal.
- Who’s offering this plan? Your cable company doesn’t really supply power. It’s just another company using the Comcast brand (which, over the last year or so, has taken a black eye). You have to visit the “Frequently Asked Questions” section to discover that a company called Crius is actually the supplier behind the Energy Rewards plan. Up until now, Crius has marketed itself under the Viridian and Public Power brands in Illinois. So if you sign up for this plan what shows up on your bill? We called the company’s help line and were told that customers who signed up see “Energy Rewards” in the supply section of their ComEd bill. (Remember, ComEd will still deliver the electricity to you even if you choose another company to supply the actual power.)
So will you save money with Comcast? It’s possible you could save some in the first year–but it’s hard to tell how exactly Comcast comes up with its monthly price. And people who take Comcast up on its offer have to be careful when the promotional offer ends in 12 months.
Remember, you don’t have to switch suppliers, even if a company representative claims you do. Unfortunately, when a CUB staffer asked a customer service rep if he had to choose a new supplier, the first answer was: Yes. It took multiple questions before the rep made it clear that people can stay with ComEd, the regulated utility, if they so choose.
So you do have a choice. Make it an informed one.