A natural gas customer is sending a warning after switching companies for what she thought was a deal – but ended up paying twice as much.

Two years ago, Janet Duplisse opened the door to a gas marketer offering what sounded like a way to save on her gas bill.

"They lead you to believe Terasen Gas would go up and by signing with Access you were protected from that increase. That was their reasoning and that's why I signed up," she said.

But the trend of increasing natural gas prices reversed. Prices plunged and she found that by this year she was paying double what she would have been paying with Terasen.

"I was horrified," Duplisse said. "A hundred dollars more a month I'm spending. And I'm not rich. I could sure use that money for something else."

She asked the B.C. Utilities Commission to investigate and it ruled her contract is valid. So now she's locked in with only one chance every year to cancel her contract for a fee on the anniversary date.

This year it would have cost her $453, so she's waiting until next July.

Terasen Gas and the BC Utilities Commission field thousands of complaints from consumers who thought they would save money.

"The program is not a guarantee of savings but rather of certainty, of knowing exactly what you are going to pay -- very similar to a fixed rate mortgage versus a variable rate mortgage," said Joyce Wagenaar of Terasen Gas.

Terasen is the variable rate and other companies have fixed rates. There have been changes to the program so consumers are better informed before signing up:

  • First, you must receive a verification call 24 hours after you sign up and within four days or the contract is void.
  • All companies must ask you the same 13 questions to determine that you know what you have agreed to and that you may not save money.
  • You have 10 days to cancel as well.

If you do sign up, just one line on your Terasen gas bill changes -- the cost of gas. You still pay Terasen for delivering it and other charges.

Current prices charged by gas marketers appear on the Terasen website so you can see how they compare to each other and to terasen.

As for Janet, she says she won't be opening the door to any other sales people.

"If someone comes to your door selling you something, I mean, you didn't go out looking for it -- you didn't really need it -- so don't get it. Just say no."

If someone comes to your door wanting to sign you up to a gas contract you should be receiving a booklet that explains the program and includes a list of questions you should ask. Read it carefully before you commit yourself.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Chris Olsen