The Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) is accepting comments on its newest rule proposals that would make deceptive marketing practices by alternative energy suppliers illegal. Some companies scam consumers into signing up and gouging them with hidden fees or skyrocketing rates. The new rules would keep these suppliers from using utility logos on their material and require more transparency in their pricing. Lawmakers could consider the new rules in early December.
"It's like the wild west out there," Citizens Utility Board spokesman Jim Chilsen said. "You have to be careful and have your eyes open whenever you're offered any type of plan. These are salespeople that come to your door and offer you a rate. These are salespeople that call you over the phone or mailers that you get. Even online advertisements."
Chilsen said his organization has fielded countless complaints about these scams.
"We were getting hundreds of complaints or questions,” Chilsen said. “These were anywhere from 'Is this a good deal?' to 'Wow, I just looked at my bill and had no idea that I was signed up for a different energy supplier and am now paying rates that are up to six times higher."
Chilsen said the consumer is often his or her own best advocate.
"Consumers have to be aware, and they have to be very careful,” Chilsen said. “We always tell people to look for red flags and ask questions before being offered a deal."
Chilsen also said consumers should never give out their utility information because the companies can sign people up for their services without their knowledge, an illegal practice known as slamming.
Some of the proposed ICC rules include prohibiting alternative suppliers from using a public utility's name or logo, requiring suppliers to give prospective customers a year of pricing history for an offer, and requiring that suppliers notify customers of a rate increase of 20 percent or more.
“These rules ensure a robust competitive market balanced with strong consumer protections,” ICC Executive Director Cholly Smith said in a statement. “With today’s action, we look forward to entering the public-comment period of the rulemaking process.”
Plug In Illinois said more than 2 million Illinoisans are using alternative energy suppliers.