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updated: 7/6/2011 8:13 AM

Questions to ask before you switch

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When considering an alternative supplier for electricity, you should ask plenty of questions. The Illinois Commerce Commission and the Illinois attorney general's office both offered ways to deal with suppliers.

Here's what you can ask:

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• What is the exact price of the energy (electricity is measured in kilowatt hours) being contracted for?

• How does that compare with what the utility is charging?

• What fees or other charges, besides the charge for energy, will appear on my bill as a result of switching from the utility to an alternative supplier?

• Will the price per kilowatt hour remain the same or fluctuate during the contract period?

• Can I end the contract at any time, and if so, what would be the termination fee?

If the contract is for a "fixed price" product, the alternative supplier should explain that if energy prices go up, the price stays the same, but that customer rates (usually) do not come down if the market price for energy declines, said Robyn Ziegler, spokeswoman for the Illinois attorney general.

"The customer should also ask to see a historical comparison of energy rates for the commodity from the alternative supplier as compared to the utility," she said. "A good idea is to ask the marketer to show you a sample bill and walk through each line on the bill to explain how their prices might differ from the utility."

And always, be wary of any guarantees that you will save money. No one can predict how energy prices might change in the future, so promises of savings should be treated with caution, Ziegler said.

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