SPRINGFIELD - Speculation was rampant Tuesday about a potential deal to lower Ameren and ComEd electric rates for the next several years. But residents might not know exactly how much relief they'll see until negotiations end. As they have for months, all sides reported progress Tuesday as lawmakers and others work to get the utilities to cut rates and pay rebates to Ameren and ComEd customers. “We've never been closer,” Ameren CEO Scott Cisel said. “I'd like to get this done with.” State Sen. James Clayborne, a Belleville Democrat who has taken the lead in some of the talks, went as far to say that “we pretty much have an agreement.” Details of the multi-year agreement still have to be ironed out, officials said, but the basic tenets include: • Ameren and ComEd customers will see their electric rates cut by varying amounts based on if they heat their houses with electricity and how much their costs rose at the beginning of the year. Rates could then increase gradually over the next three years. • Included among the rate deduction could be refunds from the first several months of this year. The money could be given to customers via checks in the mail or credits on their bills. • A new state agency would regulate how utilities buy power from generating companies and therefore minimize future rate increases as much as the market allows. Once a deal is made official, Ameren customers could start receiving compensation “within a couple of weeks,” Cisel said. Cisel spoke to Senate Republicans Tuesday about the agreement and state Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa, said he was happy to hear of the progress. “All the fundamentals of a deal are there,” he said. While news of a potential deal was greeted with optimism by many, others said it would be better to hold off celebrations until all the paperwork is signed and lawmakers vote. “I think it's got to see a final blessing,” state Rep. Bob Flider, D-Mount Zion, said. When that might happen is unclear, but a resolution on the issue is likely tied to the stalled state budget that is keeping lawmakers working in Springfield. One of the last major sticking points is over how the rebates will be distributed. State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, hopes it's through bill credits, not checks that customers can cash to use for purposes other than delinquent payments to the utility companies. “Or do they go to town and have a party?” he said. Mike Riopell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (217) 789-0865.