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In a March referendum Evanston residents voted overwhelmingly to pursue electricity aggregation, essentially allowing the City to negotiate power prices for Evanston residents and small businesses. Many expected that aggregation would result in significant savings and allow the City to purchase clean energy credits at the same, or close to the same, lower price.
The results are in, and the expectations were correct on both counts. The one surprise, perhaps, is that the power will still come from the same parent company as it always has. The changes should hit power bills in August, perhaps as early as July.
City staff brought pricing to City Council on April 30. Director of Utilities Dave Stonebeck said at an earlier meeting that the City has a very short time frame within which to accept pricing offers, because prices change daily. Council voted to enter into a one-year agreement with Constellation Energy, a subsidiary of Exelon, the parent of Com-Ed, to supply energy at 4.797 cents per kilowatt hour. The price represents about a 38-percent savings from the ComEd supply cost of 7.733 cents per kilowatt hour. (The power delivery charge assessed by ComEd, which makes up 50 to 60 percent of every bill, will not change.)
Staff began preparing for the transition even before the referendum took place by prequalifying power suppliers. Three suppliers made the short list, but only two responded with pricing. City staff presented Council with three different prices for two different periods of time.
One choice involved a renewable energy mix. Citizens for a Greener Evanston has been pressing for 100-percent renewable energy, meaning that Evanston customers will be paying for primarily wind energy generated elsewhere. The push, speakers noted, will bring the City into compliance with its own Climate Action Plan by reducing its carbon footprint.
City staff obtained three levels of pricing: one at the state-mandated minimum renewable, which is now 7 percent.
The second level was at 75-percent renewable, and the third, 100-percent renewable energy. Pricing differed about one tenth of a cent, or an estimated $3 to $5 per year for the average customer.
City Council voted to opt for the 100-percent renewable option. Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, tempered enthusiasm for the achievement, saying, “I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, [but] we’re buying somebody else’s good deed someplace else and taking credit for it.” The energy used in Evanston will still come from the same source, but residents will be paying for energy produced and used someplace else, perhaps as far away as Oklahoma.
The second choice before Council was whether to go with a one-year contract or the somewhat pricier two-year option. Without much debate, the City decided on the one-year, based upon a staff recommendation that the City only go with a two-year contract if pricing was within 10 percent of the one-year pricing. At a 10.17 percent difference, staff concluded the threshold exceeded the agreed-upon amount, and Council agreed. As a result, in about a year staff will be accepting bids again – and Evanston will know whether the City should have signed a two-year deal. Renewable energy credits, in particular, may be pricier in a year since, as Ald. Wilson pointed out, dozens of communities have been opting for renewable credits after voting in aggregation.
City Sustainability Director Catherine Hurley told the RoundTable that the program maybe in place as early as July. Under the law, all power consumers must be given the option to opt out of the aggregation program. At the same time, Constellation Energy must build its customer list. Ms. Hurley said notices would be going out to residents and small businesses shortly. A July time frame for gathering data and processing opt-out selections is possible, though August may be more likely.
Regardless, it appears that for at least part of the air-conditioning season, Evanston residents who decide not to opt out will be paying the new aggregated price.