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posted: 10/26/2011 5:30 AM

Kane County might let voters shun ComEd

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Residents in the unincorporated areas of Kane County may get to vote ComEd electricity service out of their lives come this spring, but not before county board members take a close look at who would make money in the deal.

The idea is to ask voters for permission to let the county act as a bulk purchaser of electricity on their behalf. In theory, the county could negotiate a lower rate than what ComEd charges with another private electricity company looking to gain a foothold in the local market.

Estimates put the savings at between $120 and $150 a year for a residential customer.

County board members said Tuesday night they like that part of the idea.

"This sounds like a no-brainer," said county board member Jesse Vazquez. "We can finally give back to the community instead of taking taxes like with everything else we do."

But other board members said they want to take a closer look at who is selling them on the switch first. Up to now, that person has been Arnie Schramel of the Progressive Energy Group.

Schramel has made two presentations to county board committees to sell the board on the venture. His partner is Chris Childress. Childress was in the spotlight in February 2010 for winning a paid appointment to the Fox Metro Water Reclamation District with the help of former county board member Bill Wyatt.

At the time, Wyatt was listed as managing partner with the company. Wyatt said he worked for Childress for free. Both Schramel and Childress are former Nicor employees.

If the county hires Progressive Energy to be its consultant in the electricity purchase, Progressive Energy would get a commission from whichever company the county ultimately chooses as an alternative to ComEd.

The request for proposals from consultants is due Wednesday. Progressive Energy is expected to be in the mix along with BlueStar Energy Solutions.

County staffers said Tuesday night they would select the consultant for the county board since there would be no direct cost to the county no matter how much the consultant's commission is. But several board members put the brakes on that.

County board member Barb Wojnicki said she wants to interview every consultant who submits a proposal.

"That keeps them all on a level playing field," Wojnicki said. "We've heard from Progressive Energy already."

Another aspect of the proposal is a part of state law that allows the county to charge a fee to each household or business that opts to reject ComEd in favor of a new company. The fee is targeted to cover the county's costs of running the electrical purchase. County staffers suggested a fee of $1 per household, but the law puts no cap on what the county may charge.

The county board's Energy and Environmental Committee will review the results of the consultant proposals and a request to put a question on the spring ballot. If voters reject the question, the county can't proceed with the bulk electricity purchase. If the voters approve the question, a resident would have to opt out to stay with ComEd.

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