Some towns proceed with aggregation ballot measures

DANVILLE - Some cities and villages in Vermilion County are moving ahead with plans to put their own electric aggregation referendums on the April ballot after meeting last week with Vermilion County and Integrys officials, who hoped a countywide program could have included incorporated areas.

Earlier this year, Vermilion County partnered with Integrys Energy Services to offer an electric aggregation program to Ameren customers throughout the county. They intended to include incorporated areas like Danville, Rossville, Hoopeston and others. But after voters gave their required approval in November, the Illinois Power Agency confirmed that the county's referendum, and subsequent electric aggregation program, could not apply to incorporated areas. Those cities and villages would have to put their own questions on the ballot to participate in the county's program with Integrys, or any other automatic program.

So in the unincorporated areas of the county only, Integrys is moving forward with an automatic program, meaning eligible Ameren customers are automatically enrolled in the electricity savings program but will be notified how to opt out, if they want. Those customers are receiving the Integrys rate of 4.26 cents per kilowatt hour, a savings over Ameren's standard rate. And in the incorporated areas, Integrys has decided to offer that same rate, but it won't be an automatic program. Customers will have to sign up voluntarily.

Bill Donahue, attorney for Vermilion County, said if residents in the incorporated areas sign up voluntarily with Integrys, they won't be charged a termination fee to leave the program if they find a better deal. Donahue said it's a good rate that Integrys is voluntarily offering to the municipalities.

But the municipalities, like Danville, don't have to partner with Integrys in the future, if their own referendums are approved, and could possibly find a better rate. The cities of Champaign and Urbana held referendums last April, conducted separate bidding processes and both ended up with per-kilowatt rates lower than what Integrys is offering in Vermilion County, which did not go through a bidding process when it selected Integrys.

Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said he is researching all options right now, and in the meantime, is making sure Danville has its own referendum on the April ballot.

Rossville Mayor Terry Prillaman said his village is taking the same approach after county mayors met last week with Donahue and Integrys officials, who explained what happened with the county's program and what the options are moving forward.

Prillaman said regardless which way his city goes with electric aggregation, it's obvious Rossville needs to get a referendum on the ballot, and the Rossville village board will be voting Monday night on a resolution to put a referendum on the April ballot.

Prillaman said Rossville will have to pursue some kind of partnership regardless, because it's a small municipality and doesn't have enough customers to negotiate a "magnificent rate" on its own.

"We will have to be pulled in with others," he said.

Champaign County, which had its referendum in November, joined other counties and municipalities through its partnership with Good Energy, which it had chosen to implement its electric aggregation program in unincorporated areas only. Good Energy formed a consortium of 55 cities and counties in Central Illinois, including Champaign County, Mahomet and Savoy. The consortium creates a larger pool of customers with more purchasing power, and Deb Busey, Champaign County administrator, said it worked very well, resulting in a good rate.

Homelife had the winning bid, she said, at 3.99 cents per kilowatt hour. She said that rate is for electricity that's from renewable energy sources, but that rate does not include an administrative fee, which municipalities have the option of collecting. Busey said the county did choose 100 percent renewable energy sources but is not collecting a fee. She said the county wanted to include a fee in its program, but it was the interpretation of the Champaign County State's Attorney's office that county code and state statutes don't give the county the authority to collect a fee like municipalities can. Busey said Mahomet's rate will be even lower, at 3.09 cents per kilowatt hour, because it is not specifying renewable energy and also is not collecting an administrative fee.

Vermilion County is collecting a fee, and its 4.26 cent rate includes a fee of .002 cents per kilowatt hour, which Integrys pays to the county. Prior to the November referendum, county officials had hoped the fee would generate enough money to fund a bond issue that would pay for renovations to the Vermilion County Courthouse. But now that the aggregation program won't include the incorporated areas in the automatic program, the fee won't generate as much revenue as anticipated.

Newly-elected County Board Chairman Gary Weinard said plans for a bond issue are now on hold until the county can determine how it would fund bond payments.

"It's very much up in the air," he said.

Prillaman said he's not looking at electric aggregation as a revenue generator.

"I'm looking at it as a way for our residents to save some money, especially seniors," he said.

And although Integrys is offering the 4.26 cent rate voluntarily to residents and small commercial customers in the incorporated areas, Prillaman said there just won't be as many who take advantage of a lower rate if they have to sign up. So, he wants to proceed with a referendum and get Rossville into an automatic program.

"I'm in favor of saving money," he said.

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