Friday, November 23, 2007

The Gas Man Cometh

A fresh-faced young woman who looked like she could be a Noxema spokesmodel knocked on my door today. She wore an official ID and a U.S. Energy Savings Corp. cap and uniform; and she asked to see our most recent gas bill to “see if we qualified” for a five percent discount on future gas price increases.

She pitched a five-year fixed-price natural gas contract to further protect us from future price increases. The advantages of her company compared to other suppliers, said Noxema Girl, was that they offered these benefits for no fee, and our gas price would be guaranteed for five years.

It all sounds great, right? But door-to-door salespeople trigger an instinctive defensive reflex in my brain. I’ve watched enough Judge Alex to know that you don’t sign a contract without reading the fine print—especially when it walks up to your door and looks all innocent, and offers you a too-good-to-be-true deal. I mean, who wouldn’t sign on the dotted line for a no-cost five-percent gas bill reduction, and an insurance hedge against rising natural gas prices?

Before I signed, I looked at the small print, which advised me that the contract “appoints U.S. Energy Savings Corp.” as my exclusive provider of natural gas; and that “Customer agrees to purchase natural gas commodity supply at a fixed price of $1.09 per therm.” Hair follicles on my scapulas started to tingle, and cold tentacles of suspicion seeped slowly into my brain.

Meanwhile, Mr. Peevie had slipped into the office and googled “U.S. Energy Savings Corp + scam” and found this
. He returned, assumed a slightly aggressive stance and said firmly, “We won’t be signing any contracts today. Thanks for stopping by.”

After Noxema left, I looked up my Peoples Gas bill online. U.S. Energy had offered to lock in my natural gas price at $1.09 per therm—but my price in the last 11 months ranged from a low of $.6811 per therm to a high of $.9303 per therm. Over that period the average per-therm cost was $.81056—more than 25 percent less than the price set by the contract.

Now, it’s true that the price of gas fluctuates, and in January 2006 we paid $1.13 per therm. It’s also possible that we will see a consistent rise in prices. However, this article
from the federal Energy Information Administration projects that natural gas prices will actually decline until 2013.

So, gentle readers, heed me now and listen to me later: read the small print when the gas man knocks on your door. It could save you some money, some hassle, and a visit to Judge Alex’s courtroom.

UPDATE: I've posted two updates to this piece. This one discusses the Illinois' attorney general's lawsuit against U.S. Energy Savings Corp. and this one reviews my actual gas costs and provides additional info about the company.

12 comments:

Sharon said...

Hi, Well I have been approach by the US Energy Savings Corp agents (about few months ago) and yes, the news recently showed that they were scam HOWEVER, I called the office and wanted to know what was going on, What most people don't understand is that there is TWO PAPERS that will be send to you with your Gas DELIVERY -People's Gas or Nicor, one is a SUMMARY of the GAS you used, another is the ACTUAL Bill that you paid. I got locked down on the rate and Honestly, I am happy, with such cold winters and reading the news with the increase of gas price soon, I believe I will benefit from it. Not only that, with Budget plan is worse than paying $1.09 per therm. I know US energy savings is a well doing company, if its a fraud they wouldn't be having offices every where and still operating. So well, if people were to read their bill properly and understand what they are offering, I don't think they will be owing thousands of dollars. Yes, read before you sign, but I'm sure no one forces you to sign something you don't want.

Anonymous said...

US Energy Savings came to our door the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving.

(Now why would a company sell you utility services, door-to-door, and come to your door the evening before a multiple-day holiday? I even asked the guy that question, and he blithely replied, "Because we've done it that way for ten years." I should have followed my instincts, but I was too polite and let it go.)

My wife answered the door, baby in arms, thought it sounded like a good deal, and signed us up while I was distracted running errands. Just after the salesman left, I found websites pointing to their scam.

We signed and sent in paperwork to cancel that Friday (which, according to their fine print, would be within their time limits to cancel) via Registered Mail. According to the tracking numbers, they got the paperwork, and we breathed a sigh of relief.

Or so we thought. Today I got the gas bill, and it's three times what we paid last year. Mind you, they didn't gouge us on price per therm; I know because I track those statistics monthly. It was the usage. According to them, we've used three times the number of therms that we normally use. Put another way, they claim that we've used more gas last month than we've used in the past eight. Even given higher winter usage, that's highly unlikely.

I'm fuming. Stay away from U.S. Energy Savings. They're tactics are low.

E. Peevie said...

Anon, Sorry to hear your story. That stinks. I'm not even sure how you could get screwed on usage. I wonder how your current usage level compares to your usage level during the same time period last year?

Anyway, good luck. E. P.

Anonymous said...

I've actually signed a couple of years ago with US Energy Savings. The price I signed was 83.9 cents/therm. Wow, the gas prices have really sky rocketed!

$1.09/therm for a new contract??? That's crazy!

Btw...2nd comment on this blog from anonymous about the fact that US Energy gouging on usage, the way I understand it, is that they are your suppliers, and they do not read your meters, People's gas reads your meters. They only charge you what is read on the meter.

I've saved money. This program is like locking in your mortgage.

E. Peevie said...

Anon, Thanks for weighing in. I think you're right about usage. Glad you got a good deal. My only problem with the approach is that it was a tiny bit, what's the word, you know, like not-transparent, a little bit deceptive. Can't think of the word.

Your cost is still higher than my average per-therm cost over the past year, though. I wonder what your neighbors are paying.

E. Peevie

Jay Draiman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jason said...

Right now I'm sitting in my kitchen with the brochure in hand... Not 5 minutes ago a fresh faced USES independent contractor stopped me at my door on the way in from work wanting to look at my gas bill saying that I could lock in a rate for the next 5yrs. I grabbed my Peoples Gas bill and went back out to talk to the young man. He said my account qualified and started to take my info, but my Spidey senses started going off when I realized the delivery charge was $.99/therm + an additional $.25/therm charge for 100% green energy. That's cool and all, but $1.25 is alot higher than the .83/therm I pay now with Peoples Gas. I told him I didn't want to sign up before doing some more research. "But, what if the rates go up?" True sir, and if "IF" was a spliff we'd all be high... Yes, I realize gas rates are volatile, and appreciate your time but I gotta check some things out i.e. grab a beer and google US Energy Savings Corp. He was cool about it and ripped up the contract and handed it to me, I thanked him and went inside. After reading this blog, I'm glad I did my research! Thanks for the info! Cheers, J in Chicago

E. Peevie said...

Jason--Glad that we at The Green Room can be of service. I wasn't sure if they were still soliciting here in Chicago.

FYI, here's my most recent update of the gas scammers: http://greenroomthoughts.blogspot.com/2009/02/gas-man-scam-update-part-two.html

Thanks for leaving a comment. I'm a comment whore.

Anonymous said...

as someone that worked there for a short period, it is a scam,hence the millions they've paid in lawsuits. They pay 50 dollars per signature on 10-99 structure. Its high pressure by the managers who force employees to work 12 hour days.
They design it to go to old person areas, propose a great deal, sign them up and move on.
They even say, if it takes more than 5 minutes its not worth it.
Your better off sending your money to the king of nigeria.

E. Peevie said...

Anon--Thanks for the inside scoop. And re: money to Nigeria: HEE!

Anonymous said...

well.... I just came back after attending a so called interview with US energy savings a.k.a just energy... I thought this was going to be a normal interview.. well .. I was in for a surprise.. the whole process seemed so shady..they don't care about who they are hiring or what kind of people they are hiring.. they just want people out on the street representing their company..doesn't matter if they are thugs.. all the guy(manager) kept saying was that we could make almost 176,000 dollars a year by just being good sales men.. does that sound right to u?.. the more he kept talking.. the more i was convinced that there was something wrong with the company...he absolutely avoided the question as to what happened when the gas prices fell.. he was like.. who needs to know?.. the customers don't care..the whole company reeks of fraud...I had to come back and check on the internet to see if there were any scams associated with the company.. and what do u know.. the search results show a lot..they made me give all my personal information on their employment form.. and now i'm worried that they may misuse my information.... stay away from this company... they even mislead their employees!

E. Peevie said...

Anon 9/15--Thanks for your insider info. Sorry for your bad interview experience.