Cities launch information campaign on electricity ballot question

Cities launch information campaign on electricity ballot question

CHAMPAIGN — Bus billboards and a new website have sprung up as the cities of Champaign and Urbana try to inform residents about a ballot question voters will see on the March 20 ballot and the potential savings they could see on their electric bill.

The referendum will ask residents whether they are willing to give city officials the authority to negotiate their electric supply prices — a growing trend called "municipal electric aggregation," a term organizers are trying to simplify for residents.

"We have a complicated-sounding question on the ballot," said Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing. "It's a lot easier to say, 'Power is money.'"

That will be the cities' slogan on a flashy new website,, and 20 billboards along the sides of Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District buses. The two cities split the cost of the $13,300 marketing campaign.

Government agencies cannot explicitly say how they want residents to vote, but officials are driving home the point that residential and small commercial electric customers in Champaign and Urbana could see savings as high as $125 in the first year if the ballot question is approved.

All residents and businesses already have the option to shop for better electric rates. While Ameren Illinois delivers electricity and bills the resident, the customer typically purchases the energy itself from a different supplier.

If customers have not negotiated a lower rate — and the vast majority of residents do not — they will pay a default rate. That rate is currently 6.3 cents per kilowatt hour, said Mike Monson, Prussing's chief of staff.

If voters approve the question, the cities would have the authority to act as brokers, purchasing electricity in bulk and negotiating a lower price for all residents who have not opted out of the program.

Monson said that negotiated price could be as low as 4.8 cents per kilowatt hour — a potential savings of about 25 percent on the electricity itself.

Customers also pay Ameren Illinois for the delivery of energy. That price would be unaffected, making the total savings on a typical customer's bill closer to 15 or 20 percent.

The difference between the bulk and the non-negotiated prices could narrow in coming years as the default rate is expected to drop below 6 cents per kilowatt hour, Monson said. But he said the negotiated price would be "considerably lower" than the default rate.

"The best savings will be this year," said Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight. "So we really wanted to get this up and running as soon as possible."

More and more Illinois municipalities have initiated such programs. Knight said about 20 communities had the question on the ballot last year, and about 150 have put forward questions on ballots this spring.

If voters say "yes" to the question, it would also give cities the authority to shop for 100 percent renewable energy, an option Prussing says the city of Urbana is likely to pursue.

The question

Voters will see this question on their March 20 ballots:

Shall the City of (Champaign or Urbana) 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 a program?

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CJ Williams wrote on February 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm

You really want me to have the City negociate MY  electrical bill?  Really I want Donnie boy and Bruno into my pocket even more than they are now?  Nope.

I'm Lovin' It wrote on February 20, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Here's the great part: if you don't like it vote against it. Here's the second great part: if it passes you can opt out of it. By the city negotiating the price based on the size of the group you can save money. It's such a non-socialist idea that I believe the chamber of commerce has some sort of arrangement with its members. Unless of course you don't consider the chamber of commerce to be capitalists.

mankind wrote on February 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Call me cynical but any time someone pushes something this hard they're doing it for more than just the goodness of their heart. I want to know what's in it for city government to bargain rates.

Patrick Wade wrote on February 20, 2012 at 9:02 pm
Profile Picture

Thanks for your comment. I was wondering the same thing after this morning's press conference and didn't have an answer. I emailed Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight tonight to ask that very question: "What's in it for the city?" I've published his response in a blog post here. Hopefully that helps to answer your question.

mankind wrote on February 21, 2012 at 1:02 am

Thanks for your additional reporting, Mr. Wade. It's good to see them address this question, anyway. I guess it would make them look good at election time to be able to say they lowered energy bills. But I wonder what Ameren thinks of this program. Surely they don't come to the negotiating table with the city and just give up $1.4 million without getting something in return. 

I'm Lovin' It wrote on February 21, 2012 at 10:02 am

It matters not to Ameren. They do not make money on the commodity charge for the electricity they themselves have to purchase since they sold their generation. The commodity is a pass-through. Ameren and other utilities who purchase the commodity, gas and electric, make their money on the delivery charge - that charge is set by the Illinois Commerce Commission. That charge is unaffected by what the city is proposing. 

mankind wrote on February 21, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Well, the delivery charge is approved or denied by the ICC, but Ameren brings them the proposed charge. I suspect it's easier for them to get an increase if the average electric bill is $70 instead of $100. Anyway, not to be a conspiracy theorist, but this whole thing just feels weird, and the only neutral source I can find on it -- other than the N-G -- is the Citizens Utility Board, and they say it's not clear in the long run whether this arrangement would save customers money. At least they didn't say it was a scam. Maybe I'm underestimating the altruistic nature of our elected officials and power companies. How did this get on the ballot?

Charles Chapin wrote on February 21, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Kudos to you, Patrick for responding to the comments with some additional reporting. Thanks.

Skepticity wrote on February 24, 2012 at 12:02 pm

I hope you have additional information and can respond to my questions. 

I have noticed a pattern of decisions by local officials that support the ideology of those elected officials, and not necessarily designed to be of benefit to most residents, particularly those residents on fixed incomes. 

Presumably, the officials believe that they know what is best for us, and we should trust them.  Dangerous bicycle paths on major thoroughfares instead of back streets, and dangerous and expensive traffic circle plans would seem to fall into this category.  Perhaps drainage fees for impermeable surfaces as well?

While I support the development of alternative energy sources, they are already being heavily subsided by the federal government, and still nowhere near competitive with older, less "green" technologies.  Many of the recently highly subsidized "green energy" endeavors have failed, with the subsidy money gone. 

I noticed that information sources about the referendum to aggregate cite the issue of purchasing renewable energy and reducing the city "carbon footprint."

If authorized by the referendum, could the cities choose to purchase energy from "renewable energy suppliers" even if the cost of that energy is higher than that of traditional sources? 

Could the cities choose to purchase energy at a rate higher than the Ameren default rate for the sake of ideology? 

Are there any limits on what energy sources could be chosen by officials, and at what cost? 

I do not see that lower rates are guaranteed. 

Thanks in advance for any information you can provide. 



Mark Taylor wrote on February 24, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Your absolutely right. Our communistic collectivist nanny staters in office want to turn us all into socialist zombies who look to the government for protection rather than relying on themselves. Why should we come together to try to work a better deal when we're perfectly fine on our own? I know I don't want communist electricity coming into my home - why are they trying to jam this down our throats? They are enslaved to their Marxist ideology and want to brainwash us into accepting it by feeding us bite sized little morsels of socialism like this. Then we become used to it and finally we depend on government and start looking to them to do things like fight the oh so evil corporations. I demand a way for good decent AMERICANS to opt out of this if they do it without our permission. 

Skepticity wrote on February 25, 2012 at 11:02 pm

It is unfortunate that you seem to have forgotten how to debate points and discuss issues honestly.  Your response appears to be another exercise in the use of sarcastic ridicule to deter any honest discourse.  This has been long used as an approach to end honest discussion, and discount opinions that differ from your own.

The alternative would be that in your post we are seeing the long term effects of a fluoridated water supply  on your cognitive functioning.   :>) 

If you are genuinely stating the above opinions, distilled to the extreme views in your post, then you have lost all perspective, and appear unable to engage in any discussion.  Instead you just rant.  It seems unlikely, but I guess it is slightly possible that this is a genuine post.  If you really believe the above in its entirety, with all the hyperbole, please step back and cool off.  You should probably stop listening to talk radio for a while, as you have lost the ability to weigh opinions.  However, I think it is unlikely these are your true views. 

If, as it appears, you do not believe the above, and you are resorting to exaggerated mockery and sophomoric sarcasm regarding opinions with which you disagree, I have the following response:

Your ability to compile and exaggerate the extreme opinions you put forth shows that you have enough intelligence to not resort to this approach in debating viewpoints and political opinions.  You would serve yourself and the community better by dropping the facade and stating your real views coherently and honestly. 

If you just get off on being a troll, I feel sorry for you.  If you planfully use this approach to stifle an honest exchange of ideas and an honest search for information, it is a sad statement on your future, and that of this community.

Informational point:  Anyone can opt out.  That is not the issue at all. 


Mark Taylor wrote on February 26, 2012 at 1:02 pm

So, I am either extreme or sarcastic? Could it be that I am instead expressing the convictions shared by millions of your fellow Americans and articulated by the current Republican front runner? Vist any conservative site online and you will see that I am not alone in holding or expressing these views.  Listen to the debate in the Republican party and you will hear that the principles I espouse here are the ones that guide the Republican party locally, statewide and nationally. I take it you are a Romney Republican. WAKE UP. The Tea Party in now the GOP. 

Skepticity wrote on February 26, 2012 at 6:02 pm

OK, it was sarcastic parody.  Thanks for clearing it up! 

Of course the viewpoints you present are recognizable as from the right, though you really skimmed the cream off the rhetoric to put together the most over-the-top rendition of conservative thought.  I will not challenge that there are people who make statements that include the phrases you used, and perhaps some even more extreme, though that would be hard to do. These are the most extreme ways of voicing conservative views.  Some tea party members use such language, particularly on blogs.  (No, I am not part of the Tea Party!) 

It would be unusual for there to be so many of the phrases condensed into one short paragraph.  It is like you distilled wine into 190 proof grain alcohol, then used the example of the dangers of drinking 190 proof grain alcohol to show the dangers of having a glass of wine. The rant was a caricature of conservative thought in response to my expression of a more centrist sentiment.

However, I have to admit that though it was not really applicable to my post, the "Communist electricity" line is good!

By voicing the extreme and easily objectionable ways that conservative views are sometimes stated, you help deter consideration and discussion of any conservative views, having shown them to be extreme, and having damaged their credibility through your statements. 

I could spend a little time and put together similar rhetoric using extreme leftist thoughts, and implement a similar tactic to yours.  However, I would prefer honest discussion and do not plan to build a web identity for the purpose of stating views that are not really mine. 

I believe that in your response to my post and in your posts on other stories you are using tactics similar to those presented in Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, quoted as best I can:

"Ridicule is man's most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage."


"Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.  In conflict tactics there are certain rules that [should be regarded] as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as the target and 'frozen.'"

You seem to have done a good job implementing these tactics by creating a stereotypical conservative caricature that cannot help but be ridiculed.  You froze the target (conservative thought.)


My initial question was concerning what restraints (if any) are present to prevent governmental misuse of power if the referendum passes.  There are apparently no guarantees that rates will be maintained below the default rate.  I was seeking information about this proposed program.  I am somewhat skeptical about many recent programs that seem to lack common sense in their implementation, but have praiseworthy goals, such as supposed improved safety.   

I live in Illinois.  I have thus obviously seen governmental officials misuse their power.  I have seen government officials use their authority for their own purposes, and spend tax dollars to buy votes from the electorate through impractical, but good feeling programs.  I have seen blatant corruption.  Because of this I believe in maintaining a lot of skepticism about proposed utopian governmental solutions to problems.  However, sometimes government does a good job and I am open to that possibility, too.   

No, I am not a Romney nor any kind of Republican (or Democrat). 

Why don't you present your views on the power aggregation referendum, and explain why you support it or oppose it?  This would be more intellectually honest, and frankly, interesting.  You might even convince someone, like me!


Mark Taylor wrote on February 27, 2012 at 4:02 pm

You again call my statement extreme and insist that they are out of the Republican mainstream. My views are not extreme, and nor are they in any way sarcastic or parody. As Rick Santorum has warned us, Satan is at war with our country and 0bama is trying to brainwash our kids by encouraging them to go to college. Gingrich rightfully warns us that our civilization is on the brink of collapse and he - or any of the Republicans - can save us. Romney, yes a rhino, still knows enough to recognize that Maobama is marching us headlong off the cliff of euro-socialism and will reverse that march. 

Again, my views represent the mainstream of the GOP. I'm most fully aligned with the front-runner Santorum and his push to bring religion back into the public sphere after godless liberals chased It out more than fifty years ago (see the nauseating JFK speech on the so-called separation of Church and state). The local Ford Country GOP agrees with me and has also endorsed Santorum and has therefore endorsed his agenda, nationally, statewide and locally. I also stand with the crowds at the debates who, through their various cheers and boos, stood up for REAL AMERICAN VALUES in the face of the godless state run media elites who for some reason were allowed to moderate. Visit any truly conservative site (Redstate, Newsmax, Human Events, Townhall, etc) and you'll see that far from distilling their wine into grain alcohol, I'm watering it down so the liberal 0bama worshipping News-Gazette doesn't delete my comments.

Government can't do anything right. We'd be best off letting capitalism run unfettered without do-gooder nanny-staters trying to protect jus from the "evil corporations". The best we can do in the meantime is to elect people to office, who know that government doesn't work.

Skepticity wrote on February 27, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Can't get out of character?


Oh, well.  Have fun on other stories... with other posters.



Mark Taylor wrote on February 28, 2012 at 9:02 am

WAKE UP TO THE NEW PERMANENT REPUBLICAN MAJORITY. We are no longer interested in compromising or talking to GODLESS evil DEMONRATS who want to destroy our country. Since they cannot achieve LEADERSHIP, they need to FOLLOW or GET OUT OF THE WAY.

pattsi wrote on February 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Power Smart Pricing offers the very best savings on the electrical part of the utility bill. The recent Ameren mailing has an information flyer about the program. Here is more information

sluskiier wrote on February 21, 2012 at 11:02 am

Definitely!  I started using Power Smart Pricing about 6 months ago and save about $10 per month.  I live in a small, 1 bedroom apartment, though, so my bills aren't much anyway.  Someone who lives in a bigger house would likely have a pretty hefty savings.  I can't think of any reason why you WOULDN'T go with Power Smart Pricing...there are no disadvantages, in my opinion.

serf wrote on February 21, 2012 at 7:02 pm

I've been using the PSP program since 2007.  For 08-10, I saved 15%, 26%, and 12% each year over Ameren's regular rate.

There is a downside though.  U gotta remember that you are paying an hourly rate for your electricity.  This means that it's typically pretty cheap when demand for electricity is low (like overnight and on the weekends).  But, when demand is very high, the hourly rate can spike to 2 or 3 times the regular rate.  Typically this only happens on hot summer afternoons when everybody is using their air conditioners.  

The whole idea is that you adjust your electricity usage to low peak times.  This personally saves you money and keeps the extra stress off of the power grid.  The reality is that since the economic downturn a couple of years ago, electricity has been very cheap around the clock.  As you can see today, the hourly rate for electricity never got above 3 cents per kWh.  That's cheap.



sluskiier wrote on February 20, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Hey, if they can save me even a little bit on my electric bill, I'm all for it.  There doesn't always have to be an ulterior motive.

David Illinois wrote on February 21, 2012 at 6:02 am

Is it a conflict of interest to use City dollars to promote the City's desired outcome?  Why not just use City funds to pay for Prussing's re-election?

Mark Taylor wrote on February 21, 2012 at 10:02 am

I think the UN is behind this, just like they're behind all the bike lanes we suddenly see all over town. It's all part of their fake science global warming hokum. Next they'll want to take over the water supply, and you know what that means. The more they control these aspects of our lives, the more they CONTROL US! No thanks. I'll gladly pay 15 - 20% more on my bills to these good American companies to PROTECT MY AMERICAN LIBERTY AND FREEDOM!

This is why you all need to vote Republican. I prefer Santorum by a wide mile but I'll even vote for the rhino Romney because he's light years better than 0bama.

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 21, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Are you playing Steven Colbert? :)

serf wrote on February 21, 2012 at 7:02 pm

I'm not sure either.  The whole UN thing automatically makes me think he's just kidding.  But the rest of it makes it sound like he really believes what he's saying.  I'm confounded...

Mark Taylor wrote on February 22, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Do some research. The UN absolutely is instigating bike lanes all across the country.  They got smart about it in Colorado but the typical libs served their messiah and bowed down before the UN. The whole idea is to mandate that we use less power so China can have more. 

And no. I'm not "playing Steven Colbert". Although, I do find it humorous that so many libs follow him. I've read from multiple sources online that Colbert actually is conservative - he's just playing a joke on the libs and the lame stream government run media who are to arrogant to understand that he really is laughing at them. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 22, 2012 at 4:02 pm

I love it.  You do have a sense of humor.  It helps draw out the comments.  The spelling, and rhetoric had me believing for a while.  Thanks for the comments.  Good work. ;)