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Power play

Communities that use aggregates help residents save some money

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 9:43 p.m. CDT

Electric bills among Kane County communities with their own utilities or those that have signed up with aggregates indicate that all seem to be saving some money when compared with ComEd customers.

Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles each have their own city utilities.

Elburn uses FirstEnergy Solutions, and North Aurora and Sugar Grove each use Verde Energy for their aggregation.

A comparison of electric rates show that cost per kilowatt hour for each is comparable – but the aggregates and city utilities each pay less than the straight-up ComEd rates, according to information provided by the utilities and municipalities.

In Sugar Grove, Verde Energy charges 5.4982 cents per kilowatt hour currently, but that goes up next month to 7.31 cents per kilowatt hour until September 2015 Finance Director Pat Chamberlin said.

“ComEd has an extra charge, but we are still saving money,” Chamberlin said. “The purchased electricity adjustment or PEA rate is the variable between ComEd and our rate. This happened with [electric] deregulation, and the unfortunate part is the electric price has gone up for everybody.”

ComEd charges the aggregates an additional 1.005 cents per kilowatt hour for transmission costs, and a distribution facilities charge of 2.437 cents per kilowatt hour, 0.115 as an Illinois electricity distribution tax as of January 2014, according to information from the utility, and from an actual bill.

It also tacks on charges for energy-efficiency programs, environmental cost recovery and its Purchased Electricity Adjustment or PEA varies by month.

The Citizens Utility Board lists more than 700 Illinois units of government that are in an aggregate or going to buy from an aggregate.

In April, Kane County voters approved seeking an aggregate for the unincorporated areas.

Diane Francis, a spokeswoman for FirstEnergy, said being in an electric aggregation program is like buying in bulk at a big box store.

“The more you buy at one time, the lower the price tends to be,” Francis said. “By participating in aggregation, each individual customer or resident tends to receive a lower price on their electric bill than if they were try to find an offer on their own.”

• • •

ComEd’s residential rate is 13.08 cents per kilowatt hour as of June 2014 across its service territory, according to information provided by ComEd.

Geneva recently hired electric consultant Gary Price to do a comparison of electric rates among the three cities’ utilities and ComEd.

“Geneva rates are very competitive, I’d say, relative to others,” Price said at a meeting in June, when the study was presented. “Geneva’s present and future rates lead the pack.” 

At that meeting, aldermen voted to give Geneva a flat rate all year instead of higher rates in the summer.

Price said he did not break the comparisons down to the charge per kilowatt hour.

Instead, he compared the cost per month based on usage.

Price said his study rolled all charges and extra costs into the price per month. 

For a residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt hours and applying summer rates, a Batavia bill would be $138.71, ComEd would be $123.91, Geneva would be $124.51 and St. Charles would be 129.90, according to Price’s study.

For non-summer usage, the bills were $138.71 for Batavia, $122.11 for ComEd, $117.19 for Geneva and $123.90 for St. Charles, according to Price’s study.

• • •

Geneva’s per-kilowatt hour charge is 11.392 cents for the first 500 hours, then it drops to 10.055 for more than 500 kilowatt hours, according to information provided by the city.

St. Charles charges 11.10 cents per kilowatt hour up to 1,200 kilowatt hours, then it goes up to 12.22 per kilowatt hours for summer rates.

Its non-summer rate is 10.50 cents per kilowatt hour, according to the city’s rate ordinance.

It includes the cost of transmission, distribution and energy.

In Batavia, the energy charge is 9.755 cents per kilowatt hour as of May 1. But adding the Purchased Power Adjustment Factor put it at 11.755 cents per kilowatt hour, Public Works Director Gary Holm said.

“We have a rate that takes the distribution charge and bundles it into the energy charge,” Holm said. “Our customers see a bill with a fixed fee each month. An energy charge encompasses not only electricity and local distribution, but we also have a third component, Purchased Power Adjustment Factor or PPAF.

“If the cost of energy varies from the base assumed amount, we either charge more or less and make up for it in the PPAF,” Holm said. “Batavia may not be at the bottom of the [cost] ranking. Even if we are at the high end of the scale ... what we are striving for – at least – is to be comparable and competitive with our surrounding peers. That is what the council set as a goal.”

A utility rate cost-comparison study, Holm said, is no more than a snapshot in time.

“Those studies are good until they day they’re published because the next day, somebody changes rates,” Holm said. “It’s at least worthwhile to do it to get a snapshot.”

St. Charles Electric Services Manager Thomas Bruhl said the city also does an annual “snapshot comparison of estimated utility costs” for St. Charles and neighboring communities. 

A St. Charles cost comparison presented in April put Geneva’s average annual electric cost at $1,120, St. Charles’ at $1,250, Batavia’s at $1,276 and ComEd at $1,293.

“This comparison ... showed that the city of St. Charles is competitive with respect to our utility rates,” Bruhl wrote in an email.

• • •

North Aurora Finance Director Bill Hannah said the village’s new rate next month through its aggregate will be a fixed 7.856 cents per kilowatt hour through September 2015 with 100 percent renewable energy.

“Since October 2011, we estimated the program saved $2.2 million if we had not done it and stayed with ComEd,” Hannah said. “We felt that the rates were really close and renewing with Verde for one year gave residents the most flexibility and a true fixed rate, as well.”

Elburn’s price will go from its current 4.72 cents per kilowatt hour to 7.32 cents per kilowatt hour in September, but it will remain fixed at that rate until September 2017, officials said.

Elburn Village President David Anderson said the FirstEnergy Solutions aggregate saved residential customers a little more than $1 million total over three years.

“It averages out per electric customer to $561 over the past three years,” Anderson said. “You’d have to be a few bricks short of a load not to be in an aggregate. The county has the right idea [to aggregate] for folks not in municipalities.”

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