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Utility watchdog, Chicago seek probe of Ill. power suppliers

From E&E EnergyWire, June 12, 2014:

A utility watchdog group and the city of Chicago are asking state regulators to investigate a proliferation of consumer complaints about electricity deals offered by alternative suppliers.

The city and Citizens Utility Board, a consumer advocacy group, say the request filed yesterday with the Illinois Commerce Commission was prompted by consumer reports of confusing or misleading electricity offers and variable electricity prices that in some cases soared to levels that were multiple times above the utility default rate.

The petition specifically asks regulators to determine whether alternative suppliers are complying with price transparency provisions in the Illinois Public Utility Act, which requires power suppliers to describe offers in plain language.

Competition in Illinois’ electricity market has flourished in recent years and delivered millions of dollars in savings. But changes in the electricity market and dozens of new offers are also generating more confusion and concern about misleading offers.

A focus of yesterday’s request for an ICC probe is variable pricing plans, which can change on a monthly basis and have generated a growing number of complaints. In some instances, prices have soared to up to six times the utility’s rate. In others cases, consumers sign up for attractive introductory offers that transition to much higher variable rates.

The petition says customers looking to get out of unfavorable power supply deals have also reported problems reaching customer service representatives.

The complaints “suggest a disturbing trend of marketing abuses,” said David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board. “This petition is a first step to reform Illinois’ power market and protect consumers from needlessly confusing, less-than-transparent offers.”

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