Vermilion County to vote on electric supplier

DANVILLE — Ameren customers throughout Vermilion County are a step closer to an opportunity to save on their power bills this summer if the county board approves an agreement with Integrys, an alternative electric supplier.

The county is considering the agreement that would essentially make Integrys the alternative electric supplier in the county rather than seeking bids from various suppliers.

According to the proposed agreement, which the Vermilion County Board will consider June 12, Integrys would begin recruiting Ameren customers throughout the county this summer for a program that would immediately provide them a lower rate of 5.2 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity compared with Ameren's rate, which is 5.7 cents per kilowatt hour.

The county board's executive committee unanimously approved the proposed agreement on Thursday, and if the full county board approves it, Integrys will begin signing up customers. Only customers who receive their power through Ameren are eligible. As part of the agreement, Integrys also will pay to place a question on the November ballot, asking voters for the permission to negotiate a bulk electricity rate even lower than what the company could offer this summer. Integrys recently won the city of Champaign's bid with a price of 4.15 cents per kilowatt hour. If the referendum is successful, then every eligible Ameren customer, who has not already signed up with Integrys, will automatically be enrolled in the program, but will be given an opportunity to opt out.

There are up to 50,000 residents in Vermilion County who could benefit from the program, according to Ron Cardwell, vice president with Integrys Energy Services Inc. He said any customer that signs up with Integrys this summer would automatically get the even lower rate that would be negotiated in the fall after a successful referendum.

The savings opportunities are made possible, because Illinois' electric market was deregulated by the Illinois General Assembly in the late 1990s, allowing commercial and residential customers to buy their electricity from various suppliers of their choice. Customers can sign up, on an individual basis, with a supplier of their choosing, but in 2010, the Illinois Legislature gave local governments, including counties and municipalities, the ability to contract with an electric supplier and pool residents and small commercial customers and negotiate a bulk rate that likely would be lower than what a resident or commercial customer could get on an individual basis.

But voters must give their approval in a referendum before a local government can contract with an electric supplier. Cardwell said anyone who may have already signed up with an electric supplier other than Integrys can still join this program, but their current supplier may have a termination fee. Cardwell said Integrys also has termination fees.

Voters in Champaign and Urbana already said yes in referendums this spring, allowing their city governments to contract with electric suppliers. Both cities then sought bids from various suppliers. Integrys won the Champaign bid with a two-year contract, locking in the 4.15 cents per kilowatt hour, and Urbana signed a contract with Homefield Energy, which will supply 100 percent renewable electricity to Urbana residents at a rate of 4.08 cents per kilowatt-hour.

But Vermilion County officials do not intend to seek bids, and instead, are proposing this agreement with Integrys now, which would allow Integrys to sign up customers this summer while Integrys also pays to promote the upcoming referendum. If voters say "yes" in November, Integrys and the county would sign a second agreement, likely a two- or three-year deal, according to Cardwell, that would lock in whatever new rate Integrys is able to negotiate. That agreement will also include a cut of the savings for the county, in which Integrys will put, less than a cent per kilowatt hour, for example, into a fund that the county can use as revenue.

Vermilion County Board member John Alexander, R-District 6, expressed his concern, during the executive committee meeting, with the county not seeking bids. He asked whether the county could hire Integrys only to promote the referendum at this point, allowing the county to seek bids later if the referendum is successful.

John Weaver, director of the local Public Building Commission, responded to Alexander's question, telling him that the county is not legally allowed to do that. Integrys has been the Public Building Commission's electric supplier for the last several years, and Weaver explained to the committee how much Integrys has saved the commission and how the company routinely gets low rates.

Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon said the bottom line is that the agreement poses no risk to the county or residents, it won't cost the county anything, but it provides the county an opportunity for revenue and residents an opportunity to save money if the referendum is successful.

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