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South Side Senior Receives Apology From Gas Company After Equipment Error Is Blamed For Bill That Reached Almost $3,000

CHICAGO (CBS) -- An apology – that is what a gas company customer finally received after the CBS 2 Morning Insiders got involved.

Prior to that, it was a nearly $3,000 bill, a threat of gas service shutoff, and the runaround. CBS 2's Lauren Victory introduced us to the feisty senior who kept on fighting.

After 30 years living in the same place, we met a South Side woman excited to show us some changes around her home. She proudly showed off her smart thermostat, a revamped furnace, and a new gas meter.

After installation, her gas bills began to drop from around $300 a month to $100.

"Tremendous savings, so I was happy," she said.

The emphasis is on the word "was."

Her year of low bill bliss came to a screeching halt with April's bill total – "$2,245.96, of which I did not understand," she said.

Third-party supplier Direct Energy had suddenly listed 14 months of "commodity charges." They ranged anywhere from $37 to $319.

"I'm like, what in the world is this?" the customer told CBS2.

On another page of the bill, another headscratcher: Peoples Gas showed a section labeled "Cancel Service Bill" with balance credits. Credits? What those were for and why they were all issued on the same day? It was a mystery.

Both companies told the woman they would investigate the bill.

"They told me not to worry about it. I only called them [again] when they sent that pink letter," said the homeowner, referring to a pink letter that came in September threatening a gas service cutoff. Because the dispute had lasted months, the balance on the bill had grown to almost $3,000.

"I was so angry," she said.

CBS 2 sent a copy of her bills to Abe Scarr for review.

"There's something clearly wrong. I can't make heads or tails of it," said Scarr.

His response is ironic, because he is a utilities expert with the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, or Illinois PIRG.

"This seems like a real mess and there are potential problems with both the supplier and the utility," said Scarr.

Peoples Gas looked closer at the matter after CBS 2 reached out and determined an "equipment issue" was to blame for a billing error.

A spokesperson sent us this statement:

"We offer our sincere apologies to the customer for the confusion and frustration this issue caused.

"Due to an equipment issue, the customer's natural gas usage was not correctly accounted for during the past two winters – resulting in an underbilling. We've corrected the issue, and earlier this month worked with the customer on an extended payment plan."

We ask our customers to please review their bills each month and take note of any sudden, drastic, unexplained change in the amount due – and tell us about it immediately so we can fix any problem."

Direct Energy said they would look into any issues on their end, but never gave CBS 2 an update.

Whatever happened, the South Side senior felt the heat and said she had no choice but to start paying down her nearly $3,000 bill of charges to keep her gas flowing.

"That's why I called you all because it was unfair, so unfair," she said.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for Direct Energy tells CBS2 it had no fault in the billing error but wanted to help the customer with the financial burden caused by the situation. The customer tells us Direct Energy called her on Friday and promised to send her a check for more than $2,000 to offset some of the commodity charges.

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