Kane County officials may once again ask voters for permission to try to lower electric bills next year. But the possible savings in store for unincorporated residents may be less now than when the county first came up with the idea.
A county board committee recommended Thursday to place a referendum on the March ballot. If approved, the county would have the authority to negotiate with electricity suppliers other than ComEd for a lower rate.
The county asked voters that same question in March 2012. It failed by about 200 votes. Officials wanted to run a second referendum in April 2013. That effort stalled when they found Illinois law requires a 23-month waiting period before a taxing body can re-do a failed referendum.
Ken Anderson, of the county's development department, told committee members now is the time to ask again. The price gap between ComEd and other suppliers is narrowing.
"There would still be a reduction, but it could be pennies," Anderson said. "The differences that you may have seen two or three years ago are going to be a little bit tighter."
The electricity market in Illinois changed June 1. That's when the last of the higher-priced utility contracts expired, and ComEd dropped its rates to stay competitive with competing suppliers. The result, Anderson said, is people with an alternative supplier saved more money the past couple years than they will in the future.
For instance, Aurora Township residents approved an electricity referendum in March 2012. For the rest of that year, township residents saved about 4 cents per kilowatt hour compared to what they would have paid had they remained with ComEd. But in 2013, ComEd dropped its rate. Now Aurora Township residents save about 1.24 cents per kilowatt hour through their new supplier, FirstEnergy Solutions.
Despite the shrinking savings, Anderson said, there's no risk in trying to obtain a lower rate. County officials would have the ability to stipulate with a new supplier that their rate is always lower or equal to whatever ComEd sets its rate at. In addition, any individual resident could also opt-out and return to ComEd at any time.
Kurt Kojzarek, chairman of the county board's Energy and Environmental Committee, said he has a supplier other than ComEd where he lives. His rates have been "substantially lower."
"If we get through this whole process, and we can't get a bid that's lower than ComEd, there's a stop option," Kojzarek said. "This is really just to allow Kane County to go ahead and investigate whether we can get a better option. It's the whole idea of a capitalistic society."
The committee agreed in passing along the plan for a March 2014 referendum without objection to the full county board.
The Citizens Utility Board, a ComEd watchdog, issued a report in February that said people who have gone with electricity suppliers other than ComEd have seen short-term savings, but there are some pitfalls. Namely, if the savings with another supplier vanish, some companies charge "termination fees" of up to $175. That's a factor the county can potentially negotiate with a new supplier.