By TESA GLASS firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — MT. VERNON — A ruling by the Illinois Commerce Commission puts residential aggregation of natural gas one step closer to reality for Southern Illinois residents.
“(The ICC has) agreed to establish rules to allow residential customers to begin shopping for natural gas they way they can for electricity,” explained Jeff Haarmann of Affordable Gas and Electric. “It’s not available yet, but we are expecting it to be available the fourth quarter of this year.” Haarmann said deregulation of electricity is available in every rate class — but not so in the natural gas industry. “Residential customers in Illinois, with the exception of Chicago, are not allowed to shop for natural gas in the Ameren territories,” Haarmann said. “Large business customers are allowed, and we have been working thrrough the Chambers (of Commerce) to help them secure affordable natural gas service.”
Haarmann said the process of degregulating natural gas is now progressing in a similar fashion as electric deregulation, which has allowed residents to see savings by becoming part of an electric aggregate.
“The way it looks now, the rules will be written similar to the electric,” Haarmann said. “For us, from an aggregation standpoint, we fully expect, when the rules are written and implemented, to be able to go back ad negotiate natural gas similar to how we did electric.”
The downside is that many electric providers don’t provide natural gas, Haarmann said. And, he believes the process of aggregating natural gas will have to be done the same as it was for electricity. “What we don’t know, but have seen in other states, is that you have to go through the process again, just like we did for electric aggregation,” Haarmann said. “We have to go to the municipalities, have a referendum, and see if the referendum passes before negotiating natural gas rates.”