Hanging Out in Rockford: Nicor and your gas bill

I want to tell you about my gas bill. I want to tell you because I suspect what has been happening to me may also be happening to you, and I think our state representatives need to do something about it.

I am one of the people who didn’t switch to another supplier when I had the chance. I think there must be a lot of us because in talking to many of my friends who have businesses, none of them had, either. Nicor is not technically supposed to make any money on the gas it delivers, only on the delivery of that gas. I suspect that is why it formed another company whose primary business is to supply gas.

However, I am here to tell you today that sometimes they do make money on the gas they supply. It has to do with the periods when they do not read your meter and issue you an estimated bill. This last winter, my first bill (Jan. 21) was more than $400, but my second (Feb. 20) was only a little more than $200. We all like it when we get a small gas bill, and I didn’t think too much about it. But on March 22 they issued my third cold weather bill, and this time it was a whopping $550.

I got out my three months’ bills and did a spreadsheet. I particularly compared the therms they billed me for to the degree-days they are required by law to print on the bill. What I discovered amazed (and angered) me. They had (according to the degree days) severely underestimated my usage in the February period when the gas was only 55 cents and then charged me for all that gas in the March billing, where the price was 75 cents. In other words, I had paid 21 cents per therm extra for gas I had actually used in the earlier, cheaper period.

This had happened to me two years earlier, and I had contacted the gas company at that time, and it had made an adjustment. That time it was only about $45. I calculated the difference this time to be quite a bit more. I talked to Shirley, operator No. 372. She immediately offered me $95.75. The fact that they immediately offered me $100 certainly proves they overcharged me. I told her that was insufficient, and I filed a complaint with the illinois Commerce Commission on April 4. I told several of my business friends about the situation, and they, too, looked at their gas bills. The same exact situation existed. In each case, they were offered an immediate settlement amount, which they accepted.

As a result of my complaint to the ICC, I was contacted by Cindy, operator No. 283, on May 15. She was curt and snide. She talked to me as if I were stupid and could not understand the billing process and made no further effort to clarify. She was all in all rude and unresponsive. She said she would go back to the beginning of the year and re-bill me according to the degree-days. This was a deliberate attempt, in my opinion, to obfuscate. We use gas in the restaurant as well as for heating, so the issue would be clouded by including months where there was no heating whatsoever.

Over the next few days, I received a series of totally incomprehensible billings. There were massive credit amounts that reduced as they got closer to the current date. Finally, there was one (May 15) that said “estimated bill—send no money,” but I sent a check anyway. I didn’t want any problems. It was for about $329, my check No. 17119. A few days later, I got an actual bill for 88 bucks. I ignored it, having already sent the $329. My next bill (July 1) was for an unbelievable $685.43. In looking at it, I discovered they had included a security deposit of $444. I digress here to say that for many years I have paid my gas bill in full, along with all my other bills, on the 10th of the month. I have always paid my bill in full every month. They were showing the previous balance of $88.65 still on the books. My check for $329 still has not cleared the bank.

Again (after considerable difficulty reaching her), I talked to Cindy, operator No. 289. She was abysmally rude as usual. I told her that from the information she had sent me, I did not know or could not comprehend if I had received a refund, let alone how much it was. She told me that the matter was now closed. At first, she offered to drop the deposit charge, but when I informed her that I was going back to the ICC, she threatened to reinstate it. I pursued that, saying, “So is that what you are telling me, that if I go back to the ICC, you are going to reinstate my deposit charge?” At that point, she backed down.

I think the facts speak for themselves. Nicor obviously has the information and the computers they need to coordinate the estimated usage to the degree-days. They obviously know they are overcharging people, or they wouldn’t be so quick to offer a settlement. It may be a small amount in each case, but when it is added up, it must come to millions. One of the business people I advised received more than a $1,000 refund. I hope there is a state legislator out there who reads this and decides to look into this matter. I have still not heard from the ICC on my letter dated July 9.

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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