Sustainability commission to tackle energy aggregation

 

The Carbondale Sustainability Commission is ready to tackle its next big project on the heels of its “chicken coop” ordinance, which was approved by the City Council in February.

A subcommittee from the Sustainability Commission met earlier this month to determine whether a municipal energy aggregation program would be a good fit for Carbondale. The subcommittee will present some of its findings at the commission meeting Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Carbondale Civic Center.

The municipal energy aggregation program would allow the city to search for better electric rates from electric companies for residents and small businesses, said Ben Wodika, chairman of the commission and graduate student from Carbondale in plant biology.

Under state law, municipalities can bargain for cheaper power rates directly from the companies that produce the energy, which are known as retail electric suppliers, said John Stewardson, vice chair of the commission. In some cities, residents’ savings on monthly electric bills is substantial, he said.

The city would act as a broker under the new proposal and seek bids for electric rates.  By aggregating, or bundling, the electric accounts of its residents and small businesses, the city would negotiate with retail electric suppliers to obtain competitive rates on behalf of its residents, Stewardson said.

If  Carbondale were to implement an energy aggregation program, residents and small businesses would be able to choose whether they want to continue receiving their electric from their current provider or sign up for the city’s plan, he said.

Stewardson said Ameren would continue to send out the monthly bills, collect payments and respond to outages, service calls and emergencies.  The city would only be able to negotiate rates.

Wodika said Mayor Joel Fritzler sent the commission an email in February and asked if it would look into energy aggregation for Carbondale.

Fritzler said he had received some information about the topic from a couple of different companies and thought it would be a good thing for the commission to explore.

Wodika said other cities in Illinois are looking into energy aggregation to provide their residents with more competitive electric rates. He said Du Quoin residents are voting today on whether to give their city the authority to arrange for its residential and small business electrical supply.

According to the website for the Citizens Utility Board, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization in Illinois, nearly 300 communities in Illinois will have an energy aggregation referendum on their March 20 ballots.

In 1997, Illinois passed The Illinois Electric Service Customer Choice and Rate Relief Act, which allowed alternative energy suppliers to offer service to individual customers and put a 10-year electric rate freeze for Illinois residents into effect, according to the website.

In the summer of 2007, the Illinois General Assembly created the Illinois Power Agency, an independent government organization, to develop and manage a new electric supply procurement process for customers of Ameren Illinois and Commonwealth Edison, the two major utility companies that operate in Illinois, the website states.

Several companies that produce electricity began operating in Illinois in 2007, according to the website, and beginning in 2009, consumers had the option of choosing their electric power provider.

Stewardson said when Illinois deregulated the electric industry, Ameren, which provides power to many Carbondale residents, sold off most of its electricity-producing assets and became the distributor for the retail electric suppliers.

“Ameren delivers the energy, but they don’t make it,” Stewardson said.

Stewardson said Ameren would continue to send out monthly bills, collect payments and respond to outages, service calls and emergencies. The city would only negotiate for rates, he said.

Wodika said he thought some citizens would be willing to pay more for their electric power if it was generated by renewable resources such as wind or solar, rather than fossil fuels.

John Wallace, the city’s Maintenance and Environmental Services office liaison to the commission, said he didn’t know if the opportunity existed for the city to get power from non-coal resources.

Recycling plastics and city bike paths will also be discussed at the commission’s meeting Thursday.

Wodika said the commission is currently seeking a student representative from the university ,and interested individuals should contact the mayor about the position.

 

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