By: Steve Daniels |
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is pressing the state’s major electric utilities, including Commonwealth Edison, to prominently display on the bills of customers getting their electricity from unregulated suppliers what they would have paid in dollars and cents if they were getting the juice from utilities.
In a Sept. 5 letter to the CEOs of ComEd and Ameren Illinois, Madigan wrote, “It is critical that utilities include the price comparison information in a uniform manner so that every utility customer across Illinois has access to the same, meaningful information.”
The Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates utilities, in July asked the companies to voluntarily disclose the information to each customer following a report showing that customers buying from alternative suppliers in ComEd’s service territory are collectively paying hundreds of millions more each year than they would have if they had stuck with ComEd. ComEd’s energy costs are set via annual procurement auctions conducted by a state agency and are passed along without markup to ratepayers.
More than 50 power suppliers, loosely regulated, market deals through various means—direct mail, phone calls and door-to-door sales, among them. Misleading marketing is a common problem, and consumers report being confused about whether the offers are for savings off the utility price. Many offers lock in a price only for short periods and then put customers on month-to-month pricing that often can rise to as much as double the initial price.
Other fixed-price offers tend to be above the utility price from the start.
For years, the supplier industry has opposed posting the utility’s comparative price on all marketing materials and bills, and ComEd was indifferent at best. But ComEd and Ameren both agreed after the ICC request to post the utility price on all electric bills. So far they haven’t, though, and they haven’t committed to what the disclosures will be.
In the bills, Madigan wants the price comparison to reflect dollars and cents, not just the price per kilowatt-hour.
“Even highly educated consumers are often unaware of what the utility price-to-compare represents and how to compare that number to a supply rate offered by a (supplier) or the supply rate they are currently paying—often represented by several line items on their bill,” Madigan wrote to the utility CEOs.
A ComEd spokesman said the utility intends to begin posting its comparative price on all bills beginning toward the end of this year. As to what information will be posted, he emailed, that will be determined through workshops run by the Illinois Commerce Commission, with consumer groups and the industry participating.
The numbers are eye-opening. During the year that ended May 31, 18 percent of the households in ComEd’s vast northern Illinois territory had signed up on their own with a supplier. On average, customers getting their power from a company other than ComEd are paying over $100 more annually than they would with ComEd, according to the ICC.
For some, it’s well over that.