Online Staff Report
After years of warning consumers about an overpriced and rarely used pipe-maintenance program marketed by Nicor, the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) welcomed news Wednesday, Dec. 7, that the gas utility is now banned from telemarketing Gas Line ComfortGuard.
The ban came as a condition of the sale of Nicor to Atlanta-based AGL Resources, Inc., which the Illinois Commerce Commission approved Dec. 7.
At $4.95 a month, ComfortGuard covers inspection and repair of potential gas leaks inside a home. While ComfortGuard is billed as a non-utility service, Nicor Gas, the utility, had performed most repairs, marketed the service, and charged for the service on its own bills.
“This is good news for Illinois consumers,” CUB Executive Director David Kolata said. “The evidence clearly showed that ComfortGuard is not a good deal for the vast majority of customers. Anybody who’s paying for it should ask, based on the facts, ‘Do I really need ComfortGuard?’”
Last year, the Illinois Attorney General’s office and CUB issued a consumer alert about ComfortGuard. In a case before the ICC, they presented evidence showing that in 2009 about 440,000 customers were enrolled in ComfortGuard, yet not even 2 percent of them had repairs performed. Plus, the average cost of a repair, about $47, for a non-ComfortGuard customer, was dwarfed by the annual cost of the service, $59.40. In fact, CUB argued that ComfortGuard’s actual price should be just 30 cents — not $4.95 — a month, based on estimates of the costs of providing the service.
CUB also said customers were misled into believing that gas leaks will not be inspected and repaired by the utility unless they’re enrolled in ComfortGuard. In fact, Nicor Gas is legally obligated to immediately investigate any reports of gas leaks for free, and shut off the gas, if necessary. Customers are responsible for the cost of any inside leak repairs — either done by a Nicor technician or another contractor — but the company must cover the cost of repairs to problems outside the home.
CUB is Illinois’ leading nonprofit utility watchdog organization. Created by the Illinois Legislature, CUB opened its doors in 1984 to represent the interests of residential and small-business utility customers. Since then, CUB has saved consumers more than $10 billion by helping to block rate hikes and secure refunds.
For more information, call CUB’s Consumer Hotline at 1-800-669-5556 or visit CUB’s website, www.CitizensUtilityBoard.org.