Communities voting to negotiate electric rates

February 29, 2012 4:35:51 AM PST
Early voting has begun in Skokie, and voters are being asked to make choices about candidates and their electricity.

Skokie is one of close to 300 Illinois communities with a referendum that, if passed, would allow municipalities to negotiate for lower electric rates for residents and small businesses.

"It's based on the idea there is strength in numbers," said Patrick Diegnan of the Citizens Utility Board. "Just like Costco can go out and get lower prices for its costumers, communities can bargain lower rates on behalf of a large numbers of residents."

What communities can bargain for is who supplies the electricity.

"ComEd will still be the company that transmits the energy into homes," said the Village of Skokie's Max Slankard. "ComEd will still be the company that sends the electrical bill but the actually energy portion will be a different supplier."

Skokie is looking to neighboring Lincolnwood for guidance. After a referendum passed last year, the village sought five different bids from suppliers and negotiated a rate that was 29 percent lower than what ComEd offered, but the Citizens Utility Board says there is no guarantee prices will go down with another supplier.

"Right now consumers are saving money, long term the jury is still out," Diegnan said.

The jury is still out for Skokie voter Melissa Dissent who is voting no on the referendum.

"I would need more information before allowing Skokie government officials to select my electric provider for me," she said.

Even if the referendum passes, customers can opt out and continue to get electricity supplied by ComEd.

The Citizens Utility Board is not taking a position on the issue, only telling voters to be informed about the possibility of rates going up in the long term.

CUB says currently ComEd is tied up with a couple contracts that are higher than the market rate.