CHAMPAIGN — With lofty promises of savings on electricity rates for residents, municipal electric aggregation referendum issues swept Champaign and Vermilion counties and other East Central Illinois areas on Tuesday.
But that's no surprise. Across the state, 221 communities on Tuesday asked whether voters were willing to let their government negotiate with electric companies for residents' rates. The vast majority were expected to pass, as they did in other communities during spring elections.
In East Central Illinois, all 26 communities that had the question on their ballots said yes to electric aggregation on Tuesday. Voters in Champaign County, Savoy, Mahomet, Ogden and St. Joseph all said yes, as did Vermilion County voters.
Voters gave a green light to governments in Arcola, Arthur, Ashmore, Camargo, Cerro Gordo, Charleston, Chebanse, Coles County, Heyworth, Humboldt, Lerna, Lovington, Mattoon, Neoga, Normal, Paris, Paxton, Oakland, Randolph Township and Tuscola.
Voters in Savoy, Mahomet, Ogden and St. Joseph saw the question on the ballot twice: once for their villages and once for the county. The version of electric aggregation approved for all of Champaign County will apply only to unincorporated areas.
That means that the electric aggregation programs already under way in the cities of Champaign and Urbana will remain unchanged, according to city officials. Those programs were approved by a 2-to-1 margin during spring elections, and many were approved by roughly the same margin on Tuesday.
The next step for the governing bodies of those communities will be to negotiate a contract with a retail electric supplier to provide energy to homes. What residents pay for electricity is expected to drop within the next few months as a result of the program.
The Citizens Utility Board, a consumer watchdog group, says community electric aggregation is a good option to have, but it warns residents to keep an eye on the contracts their government negotiates. The group expects that default electricity prices — what residents automatically pay if they are not part of an electric aggregation program — are expected to drop within the next year.
Not everyone will be required to participate — residents will be twice notified by letter of their opportunity to "opt out" of the programs: once when their electric supplier is about to change and again when it has changed.
Ameren Illinois' involvement in the delivery of electricity to residents will not change, nor will its prices. Ameren will still be in charge of billing and maintenance — meaning that residents' monthly bills will still look the same and, when the power goes out, they should still call Ameren.