Exploring Three Top Attractions in Your City: Part 12 – Illinois | Direct Energy Blog

How Do I Shop for Electricity in Illinois?

As an Illinois electricity consumer, you have the power to choose who provides the supply portion of your electric service for your home. Electric supply may be sold by either your local utility at prices approved by the  Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), or you can sign up with a competitive retail electric supplier.

Most importantly, you’ll still enjoy your local utility company’s commitment to the dependable service, safety, and reliability no matter who provides your electric supply.

How Do I Shop for Electricity in Illinois?
The Chicago Skyline across Lake Michigan is quite lovely.

Who Makes Illinois Electric Choice Work

The Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) regulates public utility services in the state, including natural gas and electricity. It regulates and approves rates, certifies retailers, sets marketing practices and policies, and enforces compliance. It also develops rules for consumer protection and safety. This includes the rates and services offered by Illinois local electric utilities that once generated, distributed, and sold electricity throughout the state. These companies provide default service and are also required to be providers of last resort.

How Do I Shop for Electricity in Illinois?
Your utility company will continue to maintain the lines, poles, and meters servicing your area, no matter which energy supplier you choose.

There are three primary utility companies in the state of Illinois:

  • Ameren Illinois: The largest investor-owned utility, maintaining three rate zones in Illinois and spans central and southern Illinois, including the cities of Peoria, Springfield, and Collinsville.
  • ComEd: Bordering Iroquois County to the south (roughly Interstate 80), the Wisconsin border to the north, the Iowa border to the west, and the Indiana border to the east.
  • MidAmerican: Servicinh Moline and Rock Island in the Quad Cities metro area at the western border of Illinois along the Mississippi River, including Andover, Matherville, Hillsdale, and Cordova.

(NOTE— Mt. Carmel Public Utility serves the city of Mt. Carmel, IL and parts of Wabash County. While customers have the right to choose a retail electric supplier, no suppliers have yet registered here to serve customers.)

Following deregulation, these companies’ primary job is to distribute and deliver electricity to your home or business as well as maintain the distribution lines (“poles and wires”) to help ensure the grid’s capacity and reliability. All electricity customers, including those who have signed with a retail supplier, pay a transmission charge and a distribution charge that is separate from the supply charge. The transmission charge is the price for transmitting power from the generator over the grid to the local distribution system. The distribution charge is the price for sending that electricity through the local poles and wires to your home. Both these charges have rates set by the ICC.

Pricing

How Do I Shop for Electricity in Illinois?
Understanding your pricing options is the best way to control your energy bills.

Price to Compare

This is the price your local utility charges for electricity supply without any mark-up or profit. The Illinois Power Agency (IPA) oversees electricity purchasing for customers of Ameren Illinois, ComEd, and MidAmerican who have not chosen to receive supply from a RES. Generally, this is a fixed rate plan that lasts for 6 months with the price for that power is slated to be settled each spring. Prices must be approved by the ICC.

Residential Real Time Pricing Programs

Both Ameren Illinois and ComEd offer real time pricing programs where customers pay electricity supply rates that vary by the hour. Prices are set the night before and these rates are communicated to customers to allow them to plan their appliance usage in advance. Customers must have smart meters installed to participate. Different plan rules may apply and involve fees for leaving these kinds of plans early.

Retail electrical suppliers (RES)

Retailers are approved and licensed by the ICC to sell electricity service in Illinois in any of the three local utility’s service areas. However, the ICC does not regulate and or set RES prices. RES compete to purchase electricity at the lowest price from the electricity wholesale market. By shopping competitively, retail suppliers can utilize a variety of options for buying and pricing their electricity and offering great incentives.

Aggregated Communities— More than 760 communities are pursuing municipal aggregation programs so it’s a good idea to look for yours before you begin shopping. It’s not the end of the road if you still want to find your own supplier. Aggregation programs work in two ways: Opt-out and Opt-in. An opt-out program is when local governments choose an aggregate supplier. If you don’t wish to participate as a customer then you must opt-out by notifying your local government (instructions vary). An opt-in program is when your local government chooses an an aggregate supplier but you are required to notify your local government that you want to participate.

Let’s Go Shopping!

How Do I Shop for Electricity in Illinois?
Make your energy choice a decision for the whole family.

Go to Plug In Illinois, the Official Electric Choice Website for the Illinois Commerce Commission. There you can select from the market drop down box and the utility area drop down box for what fits your situation. The page will update and automatically list the name, address, website links, and contact information for all the certified retailers serving your area.

Consider these three things as you shop for an electricity supplier:

  1. Price: Are their rates competitive? Are there any expensive fees? How do their rates or plan compare with your local utility?
  2. Services Offered: How’s their customer service? Are their incentives good? How do they rate?
  3. Financial Stability: Even though the PURA standards for electricity suppliers are high, how financially stable are they? How long have they been in the energy market?

As you compare offers from different providers, you’ll want to compare their plans and terms of service. Be sure you know the price to compare for your area. The price is kept updated by the ICC. It also helps narrow your choices quicker when you’ve already decided on the kind of plan that fits your situation:

  • Fixed rate plans have a fixed price at a set term of service — from 3 months up to 36 months. You may pay more when prices fall but you’ll be protected when prices spike.
  • Variable rates will change monthly depending wholesale prices, demand, and other factors. You might save money when prices fall but you will pay more when prices spike.
  • Find out if the plan has an introductory rate. Sometimes, these have special conditions that may apply. Introductory rates are usually very low for the first month only. Afterwards, customers are put into a variable rate plan which could be more expensive.

Before You Sign Up for Electricity, Ask These Questions

  • What is the length of the contract?
  • What are my monthly savings if I switch?
  • Will the contract automatically renew at the end of the term?
  • How much notice must I give if I don’t wish to renew?
  • Is there an early termination/cancellation fee if I switch to another supplier before the contract period ends?
  • Is a security deposit, enrollment, or other similar fee required?
  • Are there any late fees or other fees?
  • Do you offer any other services (such as energy auditing and conservation, load management, or other energy-related services)?
  • How is the electricity generated (coal, gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, etc.)?
  • What percentage of the fuel source is renewable?
  • Where does the renewable portion come from?

Be sure to check out the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) electric pages for recent REC plan comparisons — see “Choosing Another Supplier”. The Illinois Legislature established the Citizens Utility Board in 1983 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization to protect the interests of residential and small business utility customers.

If you decide to switch to a new company, remember that switching can take up to 2 billing cycles (anywhere between 30-45 days) to complete depending on when you start the process. Your power will remain on during that time. That’s why it’s good idea to begin the process as soon as you receive the expiration of contract notice . This is sent out 30-60 days before the contract ends. Once you initiate the switch, your utility will notify you with information about your final utility bill and the switch date for your new supplier.

How Do I Shop for Electricity in Illinois?
Before he was President, Abraham Lincoln was a practicing lawyer in Illinois, so he would want you to understand all your legal rights and responsibilities.

Illinois law is very specific about the contents of the retail supplier contract. The sales contract must use 10 point font or larger, and, if it is a separate document, it must not exceed two pages in length. Among other things, the contract will detail the length of the contract including automatic renewal clauses, early termination fees, deposits, late fees, and the price per kilowatt hour (kWh) for the power and energy service. Always review the contract carefully don’t sign it until you understand it completely.

Rescission Period

Residential customers may rescind or cancel the contract and the pending enrollment without penalty, within 10 calendar days after the electric utility processes the enrollment request, by contacting the RES or the electric utility. The utility will notify the customer in writing of the scheduled enrollment and the name of the new supplier.

If you have problems with your service, contact you retail electricity supplier first.

Both the ICC and CUB tackle issues of rate increases, service, mergers, and regulatory changes. Remember that you can contact them if your issue is not resolved to your satisfaction.

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About 

Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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