Businesses can shop around for power now

Businesses can shop around for power now

In the deregulated utility market, commercial customers can now shop around for power.

The Illinois Commerce Commission lists more than a dozen suppliers who sell to nonresidential customers. Businesses began switching from Ameren and Exelon, parent company to Commonwealth Edison, in December when they no longer had to pay a transition fee to leave a public utility, ICC spokeswoman Beth Bosch said.

"We're seeing a lot of Ameren customers moving to alternative suppliers," Bosch said, particularly among larger commercial customers – as much as 70 percent to 80 percent in some classes.

That's exactly what A Woman's Place decided to do. The agency runs a 10-bedroom domestic violence shelter for 35 people, plus various offices. Previously, it paid Ameren about $1,000 a month for electricity alone. The latest electric bill was $1,900.

To cut costs, Tunnell had the agency's furnaces and air-conditioning systems serviced to make sure they were running efficiently and instructed staff to shut off lights and computers whenever possible.

But she also joined a new electricity co-op organized by Chambers of Commerce in Champaign County, Effingham, Peoria and Decatur.

The co-op hired a consultant who negotiated a three-year contract with an East Coast supplier with a locked-in rate 7.5 percent cheaper than the average Ameren rate. The estimated savings will reach 15 percent in the second year of the contract and 30 percent in the third as Ameren's rates rise, according to Chamber predictions.

"We figured that's going to save us about $7,000 the first year alone," Tunnell said. "This is by far the greatest thing they could have done."

Restoration Urban Ministries plans to join the second round of the Chamber's co-op, which is in the planning stages now.

For residential customers, Bosch said at least two companies have been certified as alternative suppliers, but they're not marketing their services yet. They're waiting to see whether legislators take any action on electric rates.

"The whole point of deregulation is to allow customers to choose an alternative," Bosch said. "If there's a rate freeze, there's no market there anymore."

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