DANVILLE — Vermilion County officials are now requesting proposals from electricity suppliers for an opt-out electric program for Ameren customers throughout the county.
Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon announced Monday that the county is asking for specific information from any alternative electricity suppliers interested in providing an opt-out program to residents in the county, and county officials will analyze the proposals and present them to the county board's executive committee, which will make a recommendation to the full county board, likely next month.
County officials released a two-page document showing the specific information they are requesting from suppliers that might be interested in an agreement with the county.
Bill Donahue, the county's attorney, said county officials will pay particular attention to the "track record" suppliers have posted in other electric aggregation programs, especially in regard to customer service.
Through deregulation of the electric market in Illinois, residents and commercial customers have had the ability to choose, on an individual basis, their electric supplier, and various companies have been offering customers more competitive rates than the standard rate they pay with Ameren Illinois. But it only affects the supply of electricity, so the potential savings would only be on the electric portion of a residential or commercial bill, and delivery service charges would remain the same.
This new request for proposals by the county is for a program that would be in addition to the voluntary electric supply program it coordinated earlier this summer with Integrys Energy Services. In June, the county signed an agreement with Integrys, allowing that electric supplier to provide an opt-in, or voluntary, program to Ameren customers throughout the county, including residents who live within municipalities like Danville.
Under that agreement, Integrys partnered with the county to send letters to all eligible Ameren Illinois customers, including some small businesses, throughout the county, giving them the opportunity to voluntarily sign up with Integrys to get a reduced electric rate, lower than Ameren's standard rate. McMahon said about 2,200 residents have signed up for that opt-in program.
Now, the county is pursuing an opt-out program, which first requires voter approval.
In an opt-out program, all eligible Ameren customers in the county would automatically be signed up to get the lower alternative electric rate, but they must be notified in writing of how to get out of the program if they don't want to participate. The county is placing a referendum on the November ballot, asking voters in the county if they want an opt-out program.
If voters give their approval, the county would pick an alternative electric supplier, possibly Integrys again, and sign an agreement for an opt-out program. If the county does not pick Integrys for the opt-out program, residents who signed up earlier this summer under the Integrys opt-in program may want to get out of their agreement if the electric rate in the opt-out program is less than the Integrys rate. If so, customers can get out of their agreement with Integrys with no penalty, according to McMahon.
In its voluntary program, Integrys is currently offering county residents a rate of 4.49 cents per kilowatt hour for residential Ameren customers in Vermilion, which represents a savings of about 26 to 27 percent over Ameren's utility-approved rate of 6.13-6.18 cents per kilowatt hour. Integrys is also offering a lower rate to Ameren commercial customers in the small-business rate class. Those customers can sign up with Integrys at a rate of 5.05 cents per kilowatt hour, a savings of about 30 percent over Ameren's rate of 7.2 cents per kilowatt hour.
The opt-out program would also generate a new source of revenue for the county. As part of the agreement, the electric supplier 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. He said municipalities in the county could claim half of that revenue, meaning the county would get 50 percent and any municipalities, through intergovernmental agreements, would divide the remaining 50 percent.
McMahon wants to use the county's share to offset a bond issue that county officials want to execute to generate several million dollars to renovate the Vermilion County Courthouse, which needs new elevators and a new roof among other things. McMahon said the revenue from the electric supply agreement could cover, at least for the first few years, the county's annual cost of paying back the bonds. The county board has not yet approved a bond issue for courthouse renovations, but McMahon said the county should consider one soon, possibly as early as January, because bond rates are very low now.