Legislation will open electrical aggregation to residents in unincorporated areas

If you live in an unincorporated area, you’ve been on the outside looking in as many communities cut deals for cheaper electricity.

However, that will change with new legislation allowing townships to pass referendums to create electric aggregation programs for all residents. The bill, SB3170, passed unanimously in both houses and awaits Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature.

Electric aggregation allows municipalities and counties to buy electricity in bulk by bundling all residential and small commercial retail accounts. The goal is a lower rate than that of ComEd, the regulated utility in northern Illinois, which is about 8 cents per kilowatt hour.

More than 250 communities in Illinois have created these programs and achieved savings by moving to market-based pricing, which has been around 3 to 5 cents per kilowatt hour. Signed into law in 2009, the original legislation missed townships, though other states with similar laws, such as Ohio, included the entity. Legislators say the omission was an oversight.

The mistake was brought to the attention of the legislature by Lake Villa Township Supervisor Dan Venturi, who said he heard from unincorporated constituents interested in participating.

“That’s when I discovered townships weren’t allowed to do it,” he said.

Venturi contacted State Sen. Suzi Schmidt, who sponsored the bill with State Rep. JoAnn Osmond. By April, it had passed in both houses and was sent to the governor June 28. Quinn is reviewing the bill, press secretary Annie Thompson said.

“Governor Quinn is committed to making utility rates affordable to residents throughout Illinois and supports measures that will do that,” she said. “The governor will act on (the legislation) soon.”

Osmond added that if the governor was not in agreement with the bill, “we would have heard about it by now.”

Currently, unincorporated residents have two options — join their county’s program or seek an alternative supplier on their own. The trouble is most northern Illinois counties have not passed or been able to pass referendums. Refenda failed in McHenry and Kane counties this March.

“I just think it is looked at as a municipal issue,” said Schmidt, who lives in unincorporated Lake Villa. “(Counties) are big, like in Lake County there are 52 municipalities, and they like to do their own thing.”

Lake County Board chairman David Stolman said the board has discussed the idea and decided it was not in their best interest.

“From an economic point of view, it would be a little easier for townships to do a referendum than the county to do it,” Stolman said.

And while some residents are switching on their own, available information on the topic is limited. Diane Francis, spokeswoman for FirstEnergy Solutions, said the company, which serves about 70 suburbs, is focused on municipalities, not actively advertising its individual household options.

Supervisors in Elk Grove, Palatine, Fremont and Hanover townships said they would need to do more research and consult lawyers before deciding if they would be interested.

Some residents in unincorporated areas are skeptical and said they view electrical aggregation as too much government involvement.

“I’m not big on government-sponsored programs. From what we’ve been seeing over the last few years, the government is running everything now, and it’s kind of like a government-sponsored slamming,” said Dan Prezell, president of the West Shore Park Homeowner’s Association in Mundelein. “I’m comfortable with ComEd. I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude.”

If passed, townships would have to put a referendum on the ballot, likely in April. They wouldn’t have to wait long. Many communities that adopted electric aggregation programs signed on for one- or two-year contracts.

Factoring in a bidding process, some townships could be ready almost immediately to add unincorporated residents to new contracts with nearby municipalities. Venturi said the bill does not eliminate the possibility of townships partnering with other townships.

If a referendum fails, the bill allows townships to operate an opt-in program.

“We look at ways to improve quality of life, and that is what we’re doing (with this bill),” Venturi said. “This is a great opportunity. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.