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Paying too much for electricity? You may have to check the fine print.

By: Steve Daniels |

ComEd has responded to regulators’ “call to action” to post its energy price on the bills of households buying from above-market-price suppliers by proposing to stuff it in a section no one looks at. Who benefits? ComEd’s sister company, Constellation.

It looked like something of a breakthrough on solving the vexing problem of consumers paying exorbitant sums for electricity when Commonwealth Edison agreed over the summer to put its comparable energy price on the electric bills of households buying from non-utility suppliers.

Guess we should have read the fine print. Because that’s where consumers will need to look on their bills to find ComEd’s price-to-compare if they start to suspect they’re paying too much to keep the lights on.

ComEd filed its recommendation Oct. 15 with the Illinois Commerce Commission on how it intended to fulfill the commission’s request that utilities begin posting their energy prices on all bills, regardless of whether consumers buy from them or a retail supplier. What ComEd is proposing is boilerplate language in the portion of customer bills labeled “Updates.”

That section currently includes items like what ComEd number to call to get definitions of terms in your electric bill and where to find ComEd’s environmental disclosure statement. It’s anything but a prominent feature a typical customer will scan when receiving his or her electric bill.

How will this help the thousands of residential customers who have no clue they’re paying far too much for electricity after they’ve signed up with an alternative supplier? It’s not a stretch to say that it won’t.

So why is ComEd doing this, particularly after a second-straight annual ICC report showing households getting their power from non-utility suppliers collectively paying well over $100 million more than they would with ComEd?

Might it have something to do with the fact that ComEd’s sister company, Constellation Energy, is the largest retail electric supplier in Illinois? The opposition of Chicago-based Exelon, parent of both ComEd and Constellation and arguably the most politically potent corporation in the state, has prevented meaningful reform in Springfield of an industry in desperate need of it.

“ComEd cannot and does not seek to influence customers’ choice of electricity supplier,” a spokesman emails. “We’re including ComEd’s price to compare on all residential customer bills—regardless of whether customers’ electric supply comes from ComEd or a competitive supplier—to help them make informed decisions. We received input from stakeholders and considered the most efficient way to add this information to bills before making our proposal to the ICC, and will continue to participate in ICC workshops as additional ideas are shared.”

In its filing with the ICC, ComEd wrote that its intent is “to evenhandedly inform customers regarding their supply options. . . .The bill message does not make any comparison between the (utility price) and the price the individual customer pays for supply, instead allowing customers to draw their own conclusions, nor does the bill message make a comparison between the (utility price) and the value of any supply services provided (e.g. green offering product, term of contracts, gift card, etc.).”

The ICC issued a “call to action” in July petitioning utilities to “prominently” display their price next to the price consumers were paying their suppliers.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan accused ComEd of “burying” the information. “Burying price-to-compare information on people’s electric bills does nothing to inform and protect consumers,” a Madigan spokeswoman emailed. “We will continue to push for utilities to make this information clear and complete so customers can make informed decisions about their electricity and cancel service with expensive and predatory alternative suppliers.”

Madigan has long called for posting the utility’s price on all bills so that customers of retail suppliers can keep an eye on whether they’re saving or not—a position ComEd opposed until the summer. More recently, she’s called for legislation to end the retail power market for households entirely, given evidence of widespread misleading marketing and other bad practices.

ComEd is proposing to begin adding the information to electric bills in December. The ICC still must rule on the request before it can go forward.