Local electric bill issues resurface



Julia Trigg Crawford has installed ground temperature monitors above the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline that crosses her family land in Direct, Texas. (Max Faulkner/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)

By Aaron Navarro

It was a Friday, around 5:30 p.m., when a woman wearing a “Direct Energy” uniform started talking to Alinger about her electrical bill plan, claiming she was there on behalf of the energy delivery system Ameren.

Alinger had just gotten out of the shower, a towel wrapped around her hair. “Now is not a good time,” she told the saleswoman. Still, the saleswoman pushed on, asking if she could see Alinger’s electrical bill or a document with her account number on it.

This story may sound familiar to some Champaign-Urbana residents. A similar incident occurred in 2014, when then-sophomore Nichole Best was confronted by a “Liberty Power” saleswoman. In a 2014 interview with the Daily Illini, Best said the saleswoman shouldn’t have been allowed in the building.“I was extremely confused to how it was protocol for her to get into a locked apartment building,” Best said. Subsequently, the City of Champaign released a statement on its website, notifying the public: “The City will never contact residents in this manner,” and “any claims made by their representatives that they are confirming enrollment into the City’s program, that time to act is limited, and/or that Ameren account information must be provided to enroll in the program are false and should be disregarded.” Marcelyn Love, a communications executive for Ameren, said though claims like Alinger’s and Best’s are still common, they are more often related to third-party suppliers, rather than Ameren.

“I can’t speak for all the suppliers, but some of them do use somewhat nefarious means,” Love said. “While they may not be necessarily telling the truth, it is still not necessarily a scam. Some of the information they might ask for may be to see the utility bill, that way they can see the account number and do a more accurate comparison.”

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Love said third-party suppliers must register with the Illinois Commerce Commission. Upon seeing Alinger’s electric bill, the saleswoman pressured her to initial a two-year contract with Direct Power on her iPad, giving her a paper copy to look at, but refusing her time to read it until after she had left. She also did not tell Alinger the contract was for two years.

“She told me because of a new law, I had to sign up for their power,” Alinger said. “She wouldn’t leave me alone, wouldn’t give me time to look anything up and answered all my questions vaguely.” John, a supervisor with Direct Energy — who provided an employee number but asked that his last name not be disclosed — said the choice to go through with a contract is up to the customer.

“The party has the right to say yes or no to the contract, as well as the right to sign the contract,” John said. “They can say the door-to-door salesman intimidated them. Then there is that following phone call where they answer questions such as if the salesman is still there. If ‘yes’, then it is cancelled and we cannot access your account. If ‘no’, then the call continues.”

John said Direct Energy employees are required to identify themselves as a representative of the company, and that they work with Ameren, not for Direct Energy.“If something is done illegally, we catch those; we get it rectified and then taken care of,” John said. Love said residents who experience similar situations should trust their instincts.

“If, for any reason, you have any suspicions about someone coming to your door, certainly don’t take any more steps,” Love said. “Get the name of the person and company, and then you can always verify if someone has been dispatched by calling Ameren Illinois at (800) 755-5000.” Alinger called Ameren and did not officially switch plans, as a confirmation phone call from Direct Power followed the contract she signed with the saleswoman. Alinger ignored the call and contacted Ameren customer service as soon as they opened the following Monday.“I made lots of calls to make sure I didn’t get transferred,” Alinger said. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she showed up after the (Ameren customer service) had closed earlier that Friday.”

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