CHAMPAIGN — Bus billboards and a new website have sprung up as the cities of Champaign and Urbana try to inform residents about a ballot question voters will see on the March 20 ballot and the potential savings they could see on their electric bill.
The referendum will ask residents whether they are willing to give city officials the authority to negotiate their electric supply prices — a growing trend called "municipal electric aggregation," a term organizers are trying to simplify for residents.
"We have a complicated-sounding question on the ballot," said Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing. "It's a lot easier to say, 'Power is money.'"
That will be the cities' slogan on a flashy new website, PowerVoteCU.com, and 20 billboards along the sides of Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District buses. The two cities split the cost of the $13,300 marketing campaign.
Government agencies cannot explicitly say how they want residents to vote, but officials are driving home the point that residential and small commercial electric customers in Champaign and Urbana could see savings as high as $125 in the first year if the ballot question is approved.
All residents and businesses already have the option to shop for better electric rates. While Ameren Illinois delivers electricity and bills the resident, the customer typically purchases the energy itself from a different supplier.
If customers have not negotiated a lower rate — and the vast majority of residents do not — they will pay a default rate. That rate is currently 6.3 cents per kilowatt hour, said Mike Monson, Prussing's chief of staff.
If voters approve the question, the cities would have the authority to act as brokers, purchasing electricity in bulk and negotiating a lower price for all residents who have not opted out of the program.
Monson said that negotiated price could be as low as 4.8 cents per kilowatt hour — a potential savings of about 25 percent on the electricity itself.
Customers also pay Ameren Illinois for the delivery of energy. That price would be unaffected, making the total savings on a typical customer's bill closer to 15 or 20 percent.
The difference between the bulk and the non-negotiated prices could narrow in coming years as the default rate is expected to drop below 6 cents per kilowatt hour, Monson said. But he said the negotiated price would be "considerably lower" than the default rate.
"The best savings will be this year," said Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight. "So we really wanted to get this up and running as soon as possible."
More and more Illinois municipalities have initiated such programs. Knight said about 20 communities had the question on the ballot last year, and about 150 have put forward questions on ballots this spring.
If voters say "yes" to the question, it would also give cities the authority to shop for 100 percent renewable energy, an option Prussing says the city of Urbana is likely to pursue.
Voters will see this question on their March 20 ballots:
Shall the City of (Champaign or Urbana) have the authority to arrange for the supply of electricity for its residential and small commercial retail customers who have not opted out of such a program?