Consumers can change suppliers but still receive electricity via Ameren
Alternative energy in Illinois
GALESBURG — Illinois is one of 16 states that has taken steps since the 1970s to deregulate its electricity markets. Market forces, increased competition, productivity and efficiency are supposed to result in lower prices.
In January 2007, the 10-year process of deregulating the electricity market here was completed. Consumers in this area who decide to change to a different electric supplier still receive the electricity through Ameren’s lines. According to a story published Nov. 7, 2011, on powerillinois.com, “Most residents have lowered their bills by $100 to $500 per year.”
It is only within the last year or so that alternative suppliers have arrived in Illinois, giving consumers their first real choices.
While the idea of switching to a new supplier of electricity may initially seem daunting, there are many resources to help consumers decide which way to go. In fact, Ameren Illinois has a step-by-step guide at www.illinoispowerswitch.com. The website has an area under “Sign up with an alternative energy supply company” that allows a person to click on a link in order to compare prices and decide which provider is the right fit. Only companies certified by the Illinois Commerce Commission and registered with Ameren Illinois are approved as suppliers. The same website has a link to allow consumers to begin shopping.
Ameren.com also has a section on “choice,” which includes a residential customer handbook, a section on “Switching to a Supplier,” “Energy Supply Options (Residential): “Payment Provisions for Accounts Enrolled With a Supplier,” “Disputes and Complaints” and suppliers registered with Ameren.
The information is presented in a straightforward, understandable way.
Phil Nevels, along with another University of Chicago student, Seyi Fabode, launched an alternative energy consulting company — power2switch.com — in January 2010.
Fabode is the company’s chief executive officer while Nevels is the chief operating officer.
“Today we offer the services to both the commercial and residential members,” Nevels said.
Power2Switch is one of a number of consulting firms available to help residents and businesses figure out what alternative is best for them. The company’s website compares electricity prices of up to 13 electricity providers in Illinois and Texas with savings of up to 22 percent.
Nevels said awareness of the choice option has come a long way. In early 2010, the penetration rate of the alternative companies was about 2.5 percent, he said. Now, it’s around 5 percent, expected to be 10-15 percent by the end of the year.
Nevels said alternative energy companies are stepping up their marketing efforts.
“Basically, they tell folks they can come to their sites today and get between 10 and 22 percent savings,” he said.
Power2Switch walks customers through the process, answering such questions as “Do I have to pay Power2Switch for helping me switch electric suppliers?” No.
The website has an explanation and example of how to read one’s utility bill and decide if switching will mean savings. If a consumer decides to switch to an alternative provider, it can be done through the power2switch website.
“Simply have your most recent electricity bill available. Visit power2switch.com, plug in your ZIP code, and review the suppliers’ rates and plans for your area. After you choose the supplier that best suits your needs, you will be prompted to enter your personal data (name, address, etc., but not your credit card or Social Security number) and e-sign the contract. The Power2Switch team will do the rest. No one will come to your home and you will not experience an interruption in service during the change,” according to the website.
According to the website, it takes from 15-45 days for the switch to take effect.
What if your power goes out during a storm? The customer still calls the utility company, because it is responsible for delivery/distribution and maintenance.
Power2Switch is an ICC licensed broker agent consultant. It is not a supplier of electricity. The company receives a small commission from electricity suppliers for each new customers who switches using the company’s website.
Other consultants can be found by typing “Illinois Commerce Commission licensed broker agent consultants for alternative energy” in a computer’s Internet browser.
The Citizens Utility Board — citizensutilityboard.org/ciElectric_cubfacts_alternativesuppliers_html — offers some of the best information for those thinking about going with an alternative supplier. For instance, under “Will I save money?” Cub says, “there’s no guarantee of long-term savings with alternative suppliers. That’s why it’s important to read the fine print of these offers. If you do decide to go with an alternative supplier, make sure to follow closely the price you’re paying compared with ComEd’s rate into the future.”
Or, in this area, Ameren Illinois’ rate.
According to CUB, while most customers who make the switch will get a single bill, “it’s a good detail to check. Also, ask if your bill will be paper or online. Most of the suppliers simply include their charges on your … bill, but at least one sends you its own bill.”
It’s also important to remember that going with an alternative supplier does not insulate one from rate hikes from AmerenIllinois or AmerenCILCO. The utility companies can still charge higher delivery rates. ComEd, which serves northern Illinois, recently was granted a $156 million rate hike on its delivery rates.
Power2Switch also makes it clear that if you make the switch, you will have to e-sign a contract with the new electricity supplier.
“Some contracts have minimum requirements and early termination fees, while others do not. A contract exists to protect the consumer as well, ensuring that your rates are locked in for the length of the contract,” according to Power2Switch.
Customers signed up for budget billing may have to re-establish such a plan, depending on the supplier.
Ameren’s IllinoisPowerSwitch website says finding an alternative energy supply company is not difficult.
“Finding the best energy price and most convenient service for you is easy,” according to the website. “Think of it like buying car insurance. It’s up to you to research competing providers and get quotes. … Understand your current supply costs and your usage patterns so you can be a smart, savvy shopper.”
Of course, one can choose to stick with AmerenIllinois, AmerenCilco, or whatever utility one has. The IllinoisPowerSwitch website also has information about managing your electricity supply if you stick with what is known as your default supply.
Suppliers Registered with Ameren
• MidAmerican Energy
• Integrys Energy Services
• Champion Energy Services
(888) 653) 0087
• Liberty Power Holdings
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
• Nordic Energy Services
• BlueStar Energy Services
• Direct Energy Services
• Constellation Energy