Mt. Vernon Register-News

September 25, 2013

Aggregation to get second look

By RICK HAYES rick.hayes@register-news.com
The Register-News

---- — MT. VERNON — Electric aggregation for the unincorporated areas of Jefferson County will more than likely be back on the ballot in the March 18, 2014, primary.

During the April election, the aggregation question was defeated by 104 votes, or less than 5 percent of the voters. There were also 710 undervotes recorded — the number of people who didn’t cast a vote either way on the issue.

Jeff Haarmann, who represents Affordable Gas and Electric, which has been hired as the consulting firm for municipalities and/or governments approving electric aggregation, said his company will do a better job of promoting aggregation this time around to prevent the high number of undervotes.

“We think if we do a better job of presenting the facts, those 700 people would’ve voted yes,” Haarmann told the Services Committee on Thursday, noting approximately 1,700 eligible Ameren households in the unincorporated areas of Jefferson County that will vote on the issue. However, there are still a number of Tri-County Electric Co-Op customers that will be able to vote on the issue as well, although there are not affected by the outcome of the vote.

“Washington County’s unincorporated area approved it by a narrow margin during the last election and we feel like the Tri-County voters may have been the undervotes, and with a little bit of help from those voters, we think it would’ve passed in Jefferson County with relative ease,” Haarmann said.

The County Board will vote next month on whether to allow the aggregation question to be placed on the March ballot.

The goal of electric aggregation is for groups to be able to negotiate a lower electricity rate. For the upcoming March election, there will be another 50 communities pooled together — 70 in all — for negotiating buying power.

During Monday night’s meeting, the County Board locked in a rate for 18 months, joining the group organized by the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.

“We recommended the 18-month rate because we have a program we run with the Chamber of Commerce and we would put the Board in to expire at the same rate for the rest of the Chamber pool which is about 80 to 120 million kilowatt hours total. So coming out of the next period we would have a lot more ability to potentially negotiate lower rates,” Haarmann told the County Board.

Haarmann will be presenting information to the Board next month on a potential annual savings of $7,000 to $9,000 on natural gas. Haarmann said there are few suppliers available — the Chamber is negotiating rates with Constellation and Center Point —recommending the county “do something to get off tariff rates and get into competitive rates.”

Haarmann told board members the county used 45,000 therms of natural gas last year, compared to 41,000 two years ago. The average Ameren rate is 65 cents per them, although most of Haarmann’s customers average 45 cents per them.

Ameren allows any commercial gas customers the opportunity to change suppliers once a year, Haarmann said, noting the deadline for a change is Dec. 31. He said if the county decides to change providers, the new rates would not become effective until May 2014.

The county’s current natural gas supplier is Ameren.