BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
Integrys Energy Services is expanding its program prices in the wake of a state agency decision on electrical aggregation.
Vermilion County voters passed a referendum in November giving the county the authority to create an electrical aggregation program. The intent at the time was to envelope all municipalities with the program.
Legal questions on whether the referendum could only cover unincorporated areas, however, climaxed Wednesday when the Illinois Power Agency — which oversees the aggregation process and how it is instituted — indicated to Vermilion County Assistant State’s Attorney Bill Donahue it would not budge in its interpretation the referendum covers only unincorporated areas of the county.
In response to that decision, Donahue confirmed Wednesday that Integrys Energy Services has decided to expand the electrical aggregation price beyond the county’s program and offer it to residents and small businesses in incorporated areas of the county.
According to Donahue, the extension to customers in incorporated areas will be handled through an opt-in voluntary county sponsorship program in which residents and small business entities in any of the county’s cities, villages and municipalities can contact the company to sign up for the low rate.
The program is similar to the current opt-in program Integrys began in Vermilion County during the summer months that allowed residents to sign up. But the kilowatt per hour rate of the summer opt-in program is higher than the new rate now being offered.
Prior to Monday’s Vermilion County Board meeting, Integrys officials quoted the county a rate of 4.26 cents per kilowatt hour for residents covered by the referendum. That is the new rate being offered through the new Integrys opt-in program.
Integrys said the price presents a potential annual savings of $200 compared to Ameren’s rates.
As of mid-August, a total of more than 2,100 residential and commercial customers in Vermilion County had signed up for the opt-in program Integrys offered.
Donahue said residents and commercial customers in unincorporated areas will receive the same rate through the opt-out program originally proposed in the referendum. In that situation, residents will be automatically included in the electrical aggregation program until they contact Integrys to decline.
Both the opt-in and opt-out programs will run through June 2014. Residents already in the summer opt-in program will be asked if they want to renew under the new, lower rate.
Under the aggregation program, the company buys electricity for large groups and thus receives a lower rate. It passes that lower rate along to the groups it represents.
Illinois Power Agency Chief Legal Counsel Michael Strong said last week that in the agency’s interpretation of the law, the county’s authority through referendum only covers the unincorporated areas of the county.
In addition, for a municipality to become involved in electrical aggregation, the municipality’s governing body would have to pass its own ordinance and place it on the ballot as a referendum for an election vote, he said.
Donahue said the IPA’s opinion indicates the agency wants the smallest units of government to pass electrical aggregation referendums. But he contends passing such referendums will not help small communities such as Sidell or Indianola.
Donahue said he will meet with mayors about the electrical aggregation later this month.
Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said late Monday that the city — given the opinions he has received — was going to begin to prepare analysis to collect information on what were to be the next options for the city.
The referendum passed in the City of Danville by nearly a 2-1 margin, 6,512 votes to 3,326 votes.
With the passage of November’s referendum, Vermilion County was the first to pass a county-wide electrical aggregation program.