Voters wary over electricity deals
By Dave Gathman email@example.com March 20, 2012 8:08PM
Updated: April 22, 2012 8:08AM
In a rare occurrence, almost every city and village in northern Kane County had an identically worded referendum on its ballot Tuesday. And even more unusually, these referendums called not for a tax increase but for a chance to save homeowners some money, by promising lower, or in the worst-case scenario unchanged, electric bills.
Residents of Elgin and more than a dozen other communities voted on the question: “Shall (the municipality) have the authority to arrange for the supply of electricity for its residential and small commercial retail customers who have not opted out of such program?”
But when the results of early voting were announced soon after Tuesday’s polls closed, it was apparent that the referendum still had been a tough sell in many jurisdictions.
The proposal won a thumbs-up from voters in Elgin, Hanover Park, Burlington, East Dundee, Gilberts, Pingree Grove, South Elgin, West Dundee, Hampshire and Huntley.
But voters said “no” in unincorporated Kane County and McHenry County, and in Carpentersville, Bartlett, Algonquin and Lake in the Hills.
The final tally in Elgin was 4,471 yes, 3,198 no. City officials there have said they hope savings negotiated through the electric power-aggregation process will reduce residents’ electric bills as much or more than their electric and natural-gas bills will go up this year because of a new city utility tax.
The proposal won overwhelmingly in South Elgin with a final vote of 1,274-543, in Pingree Grove with a final tally of 221-72, in Gilberts by 361-93, in Hampshire by 244-145, in Huntley by 1,958-1,264 and in little Burlington by 58-35.
Where the idea was defeated, the margin often was narrow. It was incredibly so in Algonquin, with just nine votes separating the 1,576 no’s from the 1,567 yeses.
In Carpentersville, the idea lost 776-702. In unincorporated Kane County, it lost 4,209 to 4,006. In Lake in the Hills there were 1,137 no’s, 964 yeses.
But the vote in unincorporated McHenry County was a decisive 5,980 no, 3,714 yes.
In each city or village where the voters say yes, municipal officials will negotiate with ComEd’s power-generating sister company and other private companies that generate electricity, trying to find one that will provide as much power as the town’s houses and small businesses need at a cheaper rate than ComEd offers. Users would still have the power delivered through their current ComEd wires.
With apparently no downside financially to voters — they could not end up paying more than if their town simply stuck with buying from ComEd — the main potential obstacle to getting the referendums passed may have been lack of knowledge about what the referendum was all about. Voters who have learned to equate “referendum” with “tax increase” might have been tempted to say no.
The only northern Kane County villages without the referendum are Sleepy Hollow, whose village board members said they wanted more time to consider the implications before putting it on the ballot, and St. Charles and Geneva, which already buy their own power and deliver it through city-owned electrical systems.
Across all of northern Illinois, some 200 communities were looking at similar referendums. If all say yes, ComEd could lose the power to negotiate electrical sources for 40 percent of its service area.
No one knows for sure how much the new process would save in each town until officials actually sit down with power companies and work out new deals. But Elgin Corporation Counsel Bill Cogley said in December that the savings could total about $80 a year for a typical home, and he said that would be more than the $63 the city will typically collect from that home through the new utility taxes.
Shawn Ajazi, an energy operations manager hired by Burlington, told that village’s board last fall that other towns using the aggregation process have been able to negotiate rates about 1 cent per kilowatt hour less than ComEd charges. That would save a typical household $175 per year, he said.
Voters have already approved similar referendums in Crest Hill, Elburn, Fox River Grove, Glenwood, Harvard, New Lenox, North Aurora and Sugar Grove.