DANVILLE — Now that voters across Vermilion County said yes to electric aggregation, there's a legal question as to whether residents in villages and municipalities, like Danville, can take advantage of it.
Many counties across Illinois, including Champaign and Vermilion, have asked voters by referendum if they want an electric aggregation program, which pools electric customers and negotiates a bulk rate on their behalf, often at a significant savings.
But Vermilion is the first county attempting to offer the program to residential and small commercial Ameren customers in its incorporated and unincorporated areas.
In Champaign County, the electric-aggregation program will cover only unincorporated areas. The cities of Champaign and Urbana have already implemented their own programs. Danville city officials had not pursued their own program with the understanding that the program the county is pursuing through Integrys Energy Services would include Danville residents.
Ron Cardwell with Integrys told county board members at their meeting Monday night that after the referendum, Integrys requested the customer information from Ameren, but Ameren only provided it for the unincorporated areas.
He said Integrys is now awaiting a ruling from the Illinois Power Agency  on whether the incorporated areas can be included.
In the meantime, Integrys is moving forward with the program in the unincorporated areas with a $4.26 per kilowatt hour rate.
All Ameren customers in the unincorporated areas will be receiving letters soon informing them of the program. And, he said, Integrys is allowing both residential and commercial customers in the incorporated areas, including Danville, to voluntarily sign up for the $4.26 rate regardless of what decision the IPA makes.
Previous county board Chairman Jim McMahon, who's been working with Integrys on this agreement since spring, said the language in the statute is cloudy as to whether the Nov. 6 referendum can cover incorporated areas.
According to McMahon, the county believes it has the legal right to make the arrangements. McMahon said the cities and villages in the county had agreed to do it this way and share the revenue, an agreed-upon amount that Integrys pays the county based on the number of potential customers and potential savings they will realize.
McMahon said the program was expected to generate $300,000 to $400,000 in revenue, with the county taking half and the other half being split proportionately among the cities and villages in it. The county is banking on its portion of revenue offsetting costs of a bond issue it needs to pay for renovations to the Vermilion County Courthouse in downtown Danville.
Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said the city is concerned with the recent discussion about whether the countywide referendum applies to all county citizens or only those in unincorporated areas.
"The majority of those I've spoken to are very adamant that the referendum in November applies only to unincorporated areas of the county, and that incorporated communities must pass their own electrical-aggregation referendum," said Eisenhauer, who added that those people include attorneys or representatives of companies that deal in electrical aggregation or other cities.
Eisenhauer said there is no question, based on the referendum, that residents in the city want electric aggregation.
"What we need to determine is the best way in which to provide that to our residents, and before I make a recommendation to the city council, I will be evaluating the options we have as we move forward," he said.
Illinois statutes allow municipalities, townships and cities to pursue electric-aggregation programs either on their own or as part of a contract with a private vendor who handles the process. State statutes allow for an opt-in program, in which people voluntarily sign up, or an opt-out program, in which all eligible residential and small commercial customers are automatically included in the program but can opt out. The opt-out program requires a referendum.
Vermilion County officials hired Integrys earlier this year and decided to offer an opt-in program in the summer months while it was preparing to offer an opt-out program in a fall referendum. After the referendum, anyone signed up for the opt-in summer program would automatically be rolled into the opt-out program for an even lower rate. A few thousand customers in the county took advantage of the opt-in program.