CUB helps Roselle consumer get $500+ refund

20160318_HelenIvonne_fbThanks to CUB’s help, retiree Helen Conrades had a little celebration on St. Patrick’s Day—light beer over ice—and some kind words for the consumer group.

“Love, love, love you,” said the Roselle woman, who was celebrating a $539 refund check she had just received from an alternative gas supplier. “My heartfelt thanks…for all the work you have done and how helpful you have been.”

Helen called CUB in January after her gas bill ballooned to nearly $300 and she discovered she had been switched to another company, Spark Energy. Gas utility prices this past winter were at their lowest point in nearly 15 years, so the Roselle woman was not happy to hear she was paying a rate ($1.26 a therm) that was nearly five times the price charged by the regulated utility, Nicor Gas.

Helen wasn’t exactly sure how she was signed up for Spark Energy—the company’s records showed that a former tenant of hers switched her in October of 2015. When she called Spark to complain, Helen says she was offered to enroll in a different Spark plan—or to enter into a payment plan to cover the big bill.

No thanks, she told Spark.

Facing a gas bill that brought her to tears, Helen needed help advocating for a refund, and her friends at the Village of Schaumburg Senior Center told her to call a consumer group she had never heard of. “What’s this ‘Cubs?’” Helen remembered thinking. “You want me to talk to a sports team?”

But then she called CUB and described the watchdog group as “a soft place to land after the way I had been dealt with by Spark.”

“Patient, wonderful, caring,” Helen said of Ivonne Ortiz, the CUB staffer who took her case. “l  don’t have a dictionary handy—I’d throw in a few other adjectives.”

Ivonne filed a complaint with Spark, and a few weeks later she got some good news: Spark was giving Helen a $539 refund.

Helen agreed to have her story told by WGN-TV, to help other consumers avoid similar headaches. But her story’s not quite over. She also was on a high electricity rate with Spark (11.985 cents per kWh, $4.95 monthly fee)—70 percent more than ComEd’s rate. So CUB is still fighting to get her an electric refund.

“My team never stops,” Helen said. “And my Ivonne is the leader of the team.”

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About Jim Chilsen

Jim is director of communications for the Citizens Utility Board (CUB)
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