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WGN Exclusive: Illinois homeowners should be wary of natural gas bills

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CHICAGO -- This story is for anyone in northern Illinois who uses natural gas to heat their homes. For the record, that is 80 percent of homes. Here's what we are learning: you may be getting a raw deal and you may not even know it.

In a WGN exclusive: something everyone needs to check when they glance at their next bill: for starters, see who is supplying your natural gas. You might be surprised to find out.

Then see how much they're charging you. We are not talking electricity here. Only natural gas.  And for the past 10 years, consumers in our area have had a choice when it comes to who supplies -- not delivers -- the natural gas to heat their homes.

Right now, with a mild winter and natural gas rates at their lowest in more than a decade, one watchdog group has a message for anyone fishing for a deal or wondering why their bills have mysteriously become so high. The Citizens Utility Board message: buyer beware.

Find out if there are any hidden fees attached to your plan when you sign up or try to get out. Watch for enticing entrance or promotional rates, too, that can expire too quickly.

All of it racks up on your bill at a time when natural gas rates have never looked so good and even usage this winter appears to be low.

One other tip for unsuspecting consumers: whether you get a call or someone shows up at your home, never give out the account number on your bill until you are certain, absolutely certain, you want to change your plan. In the hands of an eager and maybe not so honest supplier, they can sign you up for rates that take your bill through the roof.

As of one year ago, 350,000 natural gas consumers  or 12% of the market were signed up with these alternative suppliers in northern Illinois.

Additional information provided by the Citizens Utility Board: 

*Consumer alert on the highest natural gas prices in Northern Illinois:

https://secure3.convio.net/cerf/site/Advocacy?pagename=homepage&page=UserAction&id=414

 

*Full listing of alternative supplier plans available to Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas customers:

http://citizensutilityboard.org/ciNaturalGas_CUBFactsChoicesForYou.html

 

*Full listing of alternative supplier plans available to Nicor Gas customers:

http://citizensutilityboard.org/ciNaturalGas_CUBFactsCustomerSelect.html

 

*CUB’s historical analysis of the gas market found that about 9 out of 10 plans CUB has analyzed have been money-losers. (We’ve analyzed about 9,000 plans since 2003.) Here’s the Gas Market Monitor:

www.CUBGMM.com