CUB Issues Consumer Alert on Gas-Bill Myths, 'Winter Survival Center' Helps Consumers Avoid Pricey Pitfalls During Coldest Months

Jan 19, 2010, 10:52 ET from Citizens Utility Board

CHICAGO, Jan. 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In the wake of a January jump in natural gas prices ranging from 14 percent to 36 percent, the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) on Tuesday issued a consumer alert as it launched an online "Winter Survival Center" warning Chicago-area families of potentially expensive myths about their gas bills.  

Based on thousands of consumer inquiries and complaints filed each year with CUB, the watchdog organization released seven top myths about gas bills. Details about those myths are at CUB's Winter Survival Center, at www.CitizensUtilityBoard.org, along with other key online tools and publications to help Chicagoans avoid common pitfalls.

Myth No. 1: The gas company always reads your meter. Did you know the gas utility can delay reading your meter for months, and instead just estimate your usage? CUB gets complaints from people who were slammed with huge make-up bills. Aggressively call the company to ask why it's not reading your meter, and consider doing your own meter readings.

Myth No. 2: There's nothing you can do to cut your energy bills. Energy efficiency is the key to taking control of your electric and gas bills. In fact, CUB has launched a cutting edge online tool, CUB Energy Saver (www.CUBEnergySaver.com) that can help consumers build a money-saving plan perfect for their home. While supplies last, everyone who signs up for and uses CUB's tool gets a free Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulb, which can cut electric bills by up to $10 a year.

Myth No. 3: Your utility's budget plan is the same as "Lock 12." A lot of gas customers over the years have told CUB they thought they were signing up for their utility's "budget-billing plan" when they mistakenly signed up for a plan called "Lock 12." Many customers have complained that they paid too much with Lock 12, which actually is provided by an unregulated alternative gas supplier -- not the utility. In fact, CUB has yet to find anyone who has saved money under Lock 12.

Myth No. 4: A gas pipe-maintenance plan is an absolute necessity. Many customers probably don't need their gas company's pipe-maintenance plan, sold for $3 to $5 per month. Remember, it's optional! Consider passing on it. The money saved could cover future repairs -- if they are ever needed.  

Myth No. 5: An alternative gas company can protect you from utility rate hikes. Even if you buy gas from an alternative gas company you're not shielded from utility rate hikes. The regulated utility still charges you to deliver that gas to your home -- and those "delivery rates" are subject to increases.  

Myth No. 6: Your utility is the only company profiting off high gas bills. Peoples Gas and Nicor Gas profit off the "delivery rates" on gas bills -- and CUB has had constant battles with them over proposed rate hikes. Yet, in terms of the actual gas, the utilities are legally obligated to prudently buy the gas and pass the cost onto their customers, with no markup. The producers and marketers that sell gas to utilities, however, have been laughing all the way to the bank over the last decade. That's why CUB for years has called for stronger oversight of the wholesale gas market.

Myth No. 7: The gas utility CANNOT turn off your service in the winter. Gas utilities can shut off service as long as the temperature is expected to be above 32 degrees for the next 24 hours.

CUB is Illinois' leading nonprofit utility watchdog organization. Created by the Illinois Legislature, CUB opened its doors in 1984 to represent the interests of utility customers. Since then, the consumer group has helped Illinois families save more than $10 billion by blocking rate hikes and securing refunds. For more information, call CUB's Consumer Hotline at 1-800-669-5556 or visit CUB's award-winning website, www.CitizensUtilityBoard.org.

SOURCE Citizens Utility Board



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