Mt. Vernon Register-News

April 9, 2013

Electric aggregation on ballot

By TESA GLASS tesa.glass@register-news.com
The Register-News

---- — Editor's Note: This is the latest in a series of preview of city contested races and referenda that will be on the Tuesday, April 9 Consolidated Election ballot.

MT. VERNON — County, village and city residents, will be asked whether to allow electric aggregation when at the polls on Tuesday.

"Shall the (district) have the authority to arrange for the supply of electricity for its residential and small commercial retail customers who have not opted out of such program?" the referendum reads. In place of (district) each voter will have their area added — Jefferson County, Village of Bluford, Village of Waltonville, Village of Belle Rive, City of Mt. Vernon, Village of Dix, Village of Ina, Village of Bonnie and Village of Woodlawn.

Although all voters will be asked to vote on the issue, electric aggregation only affects those customers who are currently receiving their power from Ameren IP. Tri-County Electric Cooperative members are not eligible for electric aggregation as they are already an aggregate.

"Municipal aggregation allows a county, city or village to negotiate an electric supply contract for their residents who are Ameren customers," Tri-County Electric General Manager Marcia Scott said in a newsletter to members. "They are responsible for negotiating the price of power from a retail electric supplier. However, the local utility will still be responsible for deliving that power to a customer's home and billing them for it. ... The aggregation programs do not affect Tri-County members. Because of their consumer-owned structure and aggregated buying power, not-for-profit electric cooperatives and municipally-owned utilities were treated differently than for-profit, investor-owned utilities such as Ameren. Locally owned and controlled electric cooperatives, like Tri-County, were allowed to make a local decision on whether to maintain their aggregated buying power as a group or to enter the deregulated market. Tri-County elected not to enter the deregulated market. However, Tri-County members may still receive correspondence regarding this issue or may have friends or neighbors served by Ameren that could be affected by these programs."

According to Jeff Haarmann of Affordable Gas and Electric, those who are eligible include Ameren utility customers who are residential customers receiveing service from Ameren on the DS-1 service rate and small commercial retail customers who use 15,000 kilowatts or less annually.

A vote for electric aggregation does not mean residents can no longer receive their electricity from Ameren, Haarmann said.

"There are protections built into electric aggregation by statute and anyone can opt out of electric aggregation and continue to purchase their electricity without a change in the service provider," Haarmann said. "If aggregation is approved, and a provider is negotiated at a lower price, residents would still receive a bill from Ameren and delivery of the electricity would still be from Ameren."

The goal of electric aggregation is for the group to be able to negotiate a lower electricity rate — which is usually a rate locked in for two years, Haarmann has said.

"When we negotiate a fixed rate, that rate can't go up during the course of the term we negotiate," Haarmann said. "But, if the Ameren utility rate falls below the negotiated rate we have, we have flexibility to either re-negotiate with the supplier for an even lower rate or can default everyone back to the Ameren rate. ... The rate can't go up, and there is also a safety net if the rate ever falls below what we secure."

The Citizens Utility Board reports more than 200 Illinois communities have electric aggregation questions on the April 9 ballot.

"Electricity choice must be an informed choice," stated CUB Executive Director David Kolata.

CUB has prepared a Guide to Municipal Aggregation, which is available at www.CitizensUtilityBoard.org.

The guide includes information that residents don't have to take part in the electric aggregation, even if it is passed, and aggregation does not mean there will be no utility rate hikes.

"Even if you vote for aggregation and your community passes a referendum in favor of it, you will not be required to sign up with an alternative electricity supplier," information from CUB states. "You can opt out of the program. Aggregation does not mean you will avoid utility rate hikes. It just means a different company is supplying your electricity. Your utility, Amern or ComEd, will still charge you for delivering the power to your home. Those "delivery" rates are what go up with the (Illinois Commerce Commission) grants utility increases. So, even if you participate in aggregation, you will still get billed for those delivery charges, along with the alternative supplier's charges."