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.