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Consumer group wants Chicago voters to understand electricity referendum

Updated: November 26, 2012 7:11AM

Besides weighing in on who should be president, Chicago voters will have a pocketbook issue to decide on Nov. 6: Whether to allow city government to choose an alternative supplier for their electric needs.

But few Chicago voters know much about the referendum question that will ask them whether to allow “municipal aggregation” in Chicago, the nonprofit Citizens Utility Board said Wednesday.

If it’s approved, City Hall will seek bids from ComEd’s competitors to see who can best supply energy to residential and small business consumers.

CUB cited a poll by the Environmental Law & Policy Center that claimed nearly seven in 10 Chicago voters know little or nothing of the upcoming referendum. CUB urges voters to go to and check out their Chicago Power Center for more information on the process.

Numerous suburbs and Downstate communities have already chosen such plans and are seeing substantial cost savings. For example, in Wilmette, customers are now paying 4.035 cents per kilowatt hour versus ComEd’s rate of 8.32 cents.

If Chicago contracts with a different energy supplier, consumers would not need to do anything to get the new rate; the change would occur automatically unless the customer opted out. Consumers would continue to receive bills from ComEd, which would stay on as their electricity deliverer, just not their supplier. ComEd favors passage of the referendum because it does not make a profit on the supply end of the equation, only the delivery.

Eighty-one other communities in ComEd’s service territory will also have referendums on the Nov. 6 ballot. There are 175 ComEd communities that have already begun aggregation.

Chicago is somewhat late to the game, however. ComEd’s rates are expected to drop in June, when the utility is freed from some long-term agreements that had increased its prices. However, city officials could demand that any agreement with an alternate energy supplier include a price-match with ComEd, if ComEd’s supply prices were to drop significantly.

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