DANVILLE — Vermilion County Board members will decide Tuesday night whether to put a question on the November ballot asking voters for the authority to negotiate a bulk electric power rate on behalf of residents and some businesses throughout the county.
Last month, voters in more than 200 Illinois towns gave their local government officials the power to negotiate lower-priced electricity rates on their behalf, including voters in Champaign and Urbana. Those two municipalities are now in the process of choosing, through bids, electric suppliers that will broker more affordable electric rates for customers in their cities who choose to be part of the program. Customers will be given the opportunity to opt out of the program.
One of the suppliers in the market, Integrys Energy Services based in Chicago, has already approached Vermilion County officials about being the county's supplier. The county likely will choose a supplier before a fall referendum, according to Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon, who added that the county would also be open to any other suppliers that want to make a pitch to county officials.
In Champaign and Urbana, voters gave their approval first, and the municipalities will be choosing electrical suppliers through bidding processes.
McMahon said the county already has a good working relationship with Integrys, which has been the supplier of electricity to the Public Safety Building for the last five years and has achieved significant savings for the county.
If the county board votes on Tuesday to put the question on the ballot, he said, the county likely will put out a request for proposals from electric suppliers.
"If we can get a bigger savings for the taxpayer, I'm in," McMahon said.
Integrys documents given to county officials, providing details of a proposed agreement, claim partnering with Integrys in advance of a referendum saves the county administrative costs and time, allows program planning to begin now and allows for an earlier enrollment period. McMahon said Integrys could begin enrolling customers this summer, prior to the referendum and conditioned on the outcome. All Vermilion County residents would have the right to opt out, McMahon said, and the county would not be forcing anything.
A bulk electricity agreement with Integrys, according to McMahon, would also provide the county with an opportunity to generate revenue by collecting a certain amount of money from Integrys that is based on the amount of savings the company achieves and would be in return for the county cooperating.
McMahon said the county would share the revenue with any municipalities in the county that are interested.
"None of that happens unless the taxpayer votes yes," he said. "It's a way for taxpayers to save money and counties and cities that need some extra revenue to maintain services residents want. And it can be financed through savings of the power bills, so it could be a win-win for everyone."
Illinois' electric market was deregulated by the Illinois General Assembly in the late 1990s, and commercial and industrial customers were the first to take advantage of the opportunity to realize savings by choosing their electric suppliers. Although the supplier changes, the company that delivers the power remains the same. According to Integrys, about 80 percent of Ameren's non-residential load is served by alternative electric suppliers, like Integrys. Now, that opportunity is available to residential customers. Currently, individual customers can choose their electric suppliers, but pooling large numbers of residents and smaller commercial customers creates more buying power and a better opportunity for lower rates.
In 2010, the Illinois Legislature gave local governments, including counties and municipalities, the ability to contract with an electric supplier and pool residents and small commercial customers.
If the county chooses to contract with an electric supplier, customers who choose to be part of the program will still receive their bills from Ameren, which will still own the distribution system and be responsible for the delivery of the power.
Ameren rates will change in June, but based on Ameren's current rates, Integrys officials are estimating savings of 30 percent or more.
The Vermilion County Board meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday on the second floor of the Vermilion County Courthouse Annex, 6 N. Vermilion St., Danville. The county board also will be considering setting salaries for the next four years for county wide officeholders, recorder, circuit clerk, coroner and auditor. And the board will consider granting a building permit to International Power America Inc., which merged with France-based GDF Suez, for a 43-turbine wind farm west of Rossville. The company's plan is to build turbines across about 8,000 acres of mostly farmland stretching west and north from a starting point more than a mile west of Rossville's village limits.