Vermilion County Board picks electric aggregator, won't seek bids

Vermilion County Board picks electric aggregator, won't seek bids

DANVILLE — By a unanimous vote, the Vermilion County Board decided Tuesday night to contract with Integrys Energy Services for the next phase of the county's electric aggregation program rather than seeking bids from alternative electric suppliers.

Brad Smith with Global Energy Services, a company in competition with Integrys, criticized the county board for not opening up the process to bidding. Smith made his remarks during the public comment portion of the meeting, before the board's vote, and said that the county's recent request for information from various companies was slanted toward Integrys.

"By choosing a provider at this point, it eliminates the opportunity for competitive bidding," said Smith, who added that it's a disservice to the residents, because it takes away the opportunity to get the lowest rate.

Before the vote, county board member Todd Johnson, R-District 1, asked county officials if the county could seek bids. Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon said the county asked companies for proposals. Bill Donahue, county board attorney, later explained that the request for proposals is "a little different than competitive bidding."

Last month, county officials requested specific information from alternative electricity suppliers for an opt-out program that would be available to Ameren customers throughout the county and could save them money on the electric-only portion of their power bills. The opt-out program would also generate a new source of revenue for the county. As part of the agreement, Integrys would pay the county a certain amount of money per month, and McMahon estimates it could be as much as $150,000 to $200,000 a year. McMahon wants to use the countys share to offset a bond issue to renovate the Vermilion County Courthouse.

In the last few weeks, county officials analyzed the information submitted by several alternative electric suppliers, including Integrys and Global Energy Services, and determined that Integrys had the most experience and best customer service record among other things. The county board's executive committee concurred and recommended the county board go with Integrys, eliminating an opportunity to seek bids later.

Vermilion County voters must first give their permission for the county to offer an opt-out program. If voters say yes in a referendum on Nov. 6, then all eligible Ameren customers will automatically be signed up for the program. But by law, each customer must be notified of the program and given an opportunity to opt out if they want. The alternative electric supply company chosen by the county then negotiates a bulk rate for electricity on behalf of all the customers in the program.

In Champaign and Urbana, the municipalities chose to wait until after their referendums passed earlier this year and then asked for bids from electric supply companies.

The next step in Vermilion County will be the Nov. 6 referendum. Officials with Integrys told county board members that it's very important, because if the voters don't give their permission, there's no opt-out program. Integrys officials said they will be involved in educating the public about the upcoming referendum.

An opt-out program will be in addition to the opt-in, or voluntary, program that's been offered to Ameren customers in Vermilion County this summer. The county signed an agreement with Integrys earlier this year allowing the company to offer a voluntary program, which can be done without a referendum because it's voluntary. The county and Integrys sent letters to all eligible Ameren customers, inviting them to sign up at the Integrys rate of 4.49 cents per kilowatt hour for residential customers, which represents a savings of about 26 percent to 27 percent over Amerens utility-approved rate of 6.13 to 6.18 cents per kilowatt hour. Integrys officials reported Tuesday night that 2,300 people had signed up for the voluntary program. The voluntary rates are good through January, and if the referendum passes and Integrys negotiates an even lower rate than its voluntary summer rate, the 2,300 who already signed up will automatically get the lower rate.