Electric ComEd substation in Aurora

Giant transmission towers and structures rise out of the fields at the ComEd substation in Aurora. Officials in Des Plaines want to wait until the utility provider releases its new electricity supply rates before deciding on a municipal electric aggregation referendum question on the November ballot. (Chuck Berman, Chicago Tribune / June 25, 2012)

As the once-touted savings of municipal electric aggregation programs start to recede across some Illinois communities, Des Plaines officials want to wait until June before deciding whether to place an aggregation referendum question on the November ballot.

Utility giant Commonwealth Edison is expected to announce its newest electricity supply rate by June 1, Des Plaines officials said. That rate will help aldermen decide whether the city's residents could realize any savings on their electricity bills by switching to a third-party electricity supplier.

"You wonder, should we even do it?" questioned Ald. Dick Sayad, 4th, at a recent Des Plaines City Council meeting where aldermen agreed to table the discussion of an aggregation referendum until the June 16 meeting.

"Maybe three years ago, this might have been a great idea to do," Sayad added.

Following a change to state law in 2010, more than 600 Illinois towns, counties and townships have ditched ComEd or downstate utility provider Ameren Illinois for a third-party supplier, according to the Illinois Commerce Commission's Plug In Illinois website.

At the time, many of those communities where voters passed referendums on municipal electric aggregation claimed big savings for residents and eligible small-business owners.

Des Plaines officials declined to place an aggregation referendum question on the ballot, opting instead to let individual residents decide whether to leave ComEd for another electricity supplier.

The North Shore Electricity Aggregation Consortium — which includes the member communities of Deerfield, Glencoe, Highland Park, Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Northbrook, Park Ridge and Skokie — claims to have saved its participating residents and small business owners more than $32 million over ComEd's electricity supply rate from June of 2012 through this May.

Much of those savings, though, were due to ComEd being locked into an expensive, long-term electricity supply contract that expired last June, according to David Kolata, executive director of the consumer advocacy group, Citizens Utility Board.

"It was very easy for companies to undercut the utility price," Kolata said.

From October of 2012 through May of 2013, ComEd's electricity supply rate hovered around 8.3 cents per kilowatt hour, according to ICC figures. Some third-party suppliers, meanwhile, boasted rates around 4.1 c/kWh.

ComEd's rate plunged in June of last year, and is now listed on the ICC's website as 5.523 c/kWh for the period of January through May of this year. That rate, however, does not reflect a monthly "purchased electricity adjustment" that can either raise or lower the rate by up to 0.5 c/kWh in a given month.

As third-party supplier rates start to match or exceed ComEd's rate, some communities have sent residents back to ComEd.

Officials in Fox River Grove rejected third-party supplier bids last June, according to a village news release, as the bids failed to produce any savings over the ComEd rate.

The village plans to seek new bids once ComEd announces its new rates, the release states.

Those new rates are not likely to offer the various third-party suppliers with much room to beat the utility provider, Kolata said.

"It it's just a pure commodity competition, it's doubtful you'll see many great deals," Kolata said. "To some extent, it's tough to undercut the utility price."

But, Kolata added, those third-party suppliers could find a market by offering an added value over the utility company, either through investments in "green" energy or utilizing technology to help communities achieve greater energy efficiency.


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