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home : election 2013 : referendum issues   May 29, 2016

2/3/2013 5:51:00 PM
Who wants cheaper electricity?
Kevin Caufield
NewsTribune Reporter



Electric aggregation once again wil  be a choice for rural voters in La Salle County and now Bureau County.
Rural voters in both counties will see the April 9 ballot question “Shall (your county) have the authority to arrange for the supply of electricity for its rural residential and small commercial retail customers who have not opted out of such program?”
If passed, the county boards would be tasked with hiring a private electric aggregator which would negotiate on behalf of most rural residents for cheaper electric rates on the open market in a process called electric aggregation.
Electric aggregation will be facilitated the same way regardless of the county. Also, those rural residents who belong to the Corn Belt energy co-op in both counties will be allowed to vote, but they do not qualify for aggregation.
Another caveat is voters living within municipalities will not vote on the issue.
Illinois Commerce Commission defines municipal aggregation as a process in which a government body acts on behalf of its constituents in procuring electricity, either directly or through a third party, in order to get the cheaper bulk rate.
If that aggregator finds a rate lower than what Ameren or ComEd is charging, then the aggregator signs a contract (usually about one year) with the power provider charging the lowest cost. Then the aggregator monitors the supplier and utility performance, and renegotiates the contract, if needed.
And if the aggregator cannot find a cheaper rate, the aggregator signs on with Ameren or ComEd. Either way, property owners will get the lowest price available on the electric market.
Referenda in both counties will have an opt-out option. This would allow individuals to remove themselves from the aggregation and stay on the Ameren default electricity rate, or pursue other purchasing options on their own.

Alleviating confusion
A large effort to halt Rock Island Clean Line from building a massive high-voltage electric line through northern La Salle County and parts of Bureau County may have caused the referendum to fail in La Salle County’s last election. The question was defeated 7,799 to 6,730.
The two issues are completely separate. Rock Island Clean Line producers are applying for public utility status so that their company can gain the power of eminent domain to construct a high-voltage power line through northern La Salle County and part of Bureau County. Whether they are successful depends on the Illinois Commerce Commission, not either county board or voters.
Consequently, La Salle County Board’s development committee chairman Stephen Abel (D-Mendota) and fellow board members thought it prudent to put the question back on the ballot in case voters mistakenly thought they were voting on the Clean Line project.
“That was a big part of putting it back on the ballot,” Abel said. “There were people confusing it with what the clean line company is trying to do.
“We also felt that putting it back on the ballot one more time would give people more time to do their own research in case they changed their minds,” Abel added.
Bureau County board chairman Dale Anderson said his fellow board members voted to place the question on the ballot to give voters an opportunity to save money on their electric bills.
“We know of a lot of villages and cities that have had some savings so we wanted to put it out to the voters to see if they would want this,” Anderson said.

Some controversy
By aggregating all the residential and small business electricity accounts into a single buying group, county officials expect lower rates from suppliers competing against ComEd and Ameren for business. ComEd and Ameren will still deliver the electricity through its existing infrastructure, but the source of the power changes with a new supplier.
One aggregation company that will likely be hired by either county is Rock River Energy Services, Co.
Mike Mudge, owner of Rock River, said his company has 18 to 20 different energy suppliers competing for his clientele.
“The intent of aggregation is to save some people money so they can keep their dollars at home,” Mudge said. “The more suppliers you have competing the lower the price for consumers.”
Mudge says Rock River already purchases power for local residents in municipalities such as La Salle, Spring Valley and Walnut.
None of these municipalities are given individual energy use data that one will find on their electric bills. Instead, government bodies are only able to view broad demographics that show how much energy is being used in order to determine if they are getting a good deal.
Mudge said when he presents governing bodies energy contract information he offers them the option of purchasing green energy. Currently, Illinois law requires about 15 percent of all energy available to consumers to come from environmentally-friendly sources such as wind, solar and water as opposed to nuclear and coal.
But county boards and city leaders may ask the aggregator for energy that is developed using a higher percentage of renewable resources. However, using renewable energy sources as opposed to using coal and nuclear power is far more expensive for consumers and typically isn’t requested by downstate counties.
Lastly, some aggregators and taxing bodies can create special deals known as “civic contributions.” This is when the aggregator, at the request of the government body, adds an additional cost to each kilowatt hour used by consumers. The revenue from this “fee” is then directed into municipal or county coffers.
“It’s essentially a hidden tax but no one locally does this because they really just want to give their residents the cheapest rates on the market,” Mudge said.
Abel and Anderson both were unaware of civic contributions and said they did not intend to implement them if voters vote yes on the issue.

Kevin Caufield can be reached at (815) 220-6932 or countyreporter@newstrib.com.










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