CHAMPAIGN — Residents of Champaign could see their electric rates drop by August, and savings could come even sooner in Urbana, officials say.
Officials in both cities are preparing the details of a bulk electricity pricing program, which voters approved earlier this week.
Each city is required to hold two public hearings on its "plan of governance and operation," which lays out the details of the program. Urbana officials have already written a draft of that plan, and public hearings are scheduled to begin next week.
Urbana is a step ahead of Champaign on that requirement. Each city council will need to adopt the plan; Urbana's is already on paper and could be approved next month, while Champaign's is expected to go to the city council in early May.
"We kind of planned this, to be a couple steps ahead of most cities," said Mike Monson, chief of staff to Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing.
The cities can start looking for bidders, too. Both Champaign and Urbana are expected to ask retail electric suppliers for prices on traditional and renewable energy.
Monson said the goal in Urbana was to "beat the coming crush of cities" who will start looking for prices from suppliers. About 300 Illinois communities had proposals on Tuesday's ballots, and the vast majority were expected to pass.
Timing is critical for city officials, and they are trying to work as fast as they can. Substantial savings as high as 25 percent on the energy supply are expected only to last for a couple years. After that, the market is expected to drive down the default price — which the vast majority of residents currently pay — to more closely reflect the prices they will be paying once the cities' programs are up and running.
The bottom line is that, the sooner city officials sign a contract, the more residents will save.
The contracts that are eventually signed with electric suppliers will have some fine print — the agreements will lay out the length of the deals, potential price guarantees and possible penalties if customers who never opted out of the program end their participation too early.
Officials in both cities are scrubbing the list of customers that will be automatically enrolled. Most residential customers and very small commercial customers will be included automatically and need to do nothing to experience the savings.
On the other hand, customers who already have an independent agreement with an retail electric supplier are not eligible. That also includes customers involved in a Power Smart pricing program, customers who receive a space heating discount and those on certain low-income discount programs, Monson said.
They can still choose to participate in the cities' bulk program, but they will need to drop the agreement they currently have. Customers who are considering doing that should pay attention to the fine print on their own agreements and be aware of any early-termination fees or whether they will actually save money by switching to the city's program.
Customers who will be automatically enrolled will be notified twice of their opportunity to opt out of the program. Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight said it's likely that they'll be able to do so in multiple ways — by mail or by telephone, for example.
By August, most Champaign-Urbana residents will see the prices on their electric bills drop, but will hardly notice a difference with the monthly bill itself. The bills will still come from Ameren, which only delivers the energy and does not supply it. Ameren's delivery rates are not expected to change, but the energy supplier's rates will.