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Akst: Got those electric utility choosing blues

Published: Thursday, July 31, 2014 10:47 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 8:57 a.m. CST

It was a sales-pitch-looking letter that could have gone directly to the recycle bin, but I opened it.

The letter was from Lori Rader, manager of government aggregation for FirstEnergy Solutions of Akron, Ohio. I took the letter seriously because the “Re.:” line listed my ComEd electric bill account number.

Ms. Rader was writing to thank me for being a FirstEnergy customer. “It has been a pleasure serving you,” she wrote.

I didn’t know I was a FirstEnergy customer, but she explained that my community (Sycamore) had had a municipal electric aggregation program. The agreement expires this month.

Then it became irritating. Paragraph two said, “If you would like to establish service with another supplier to begin after your August 2014 meter read date, you will need to contact that supplier by July 11, 2014. Otherwise, we’ll automatically switch you back to ComEd for electric generation service.”

First off, the letter was dated July 8. I’m not even sure I received it by July 11. Secondly, I have no idea when my meter read dates are. Do you? If so, you need to get out more. Just sayin’.

I don’t know about you, but I get annoyed when somebody tells me to do something important about something I’m paying for, then gives me very little time or information. It feels like that classic “Caddyshack” line from Judge Smails: “You’ll get nothing and like it!”

So, fellow Sycamore residents, here are some things I found out. Much of this information comes from Plug In Illinois, which bills itself as the Official Electric Choice Website of the Illinois Commerce Commission.

Some of this information is also oversimplified because I don’t know what the heck a lot of it means. Neither, I suspect, will you, which is one of the most annoying parts.

Barb City dwellers, you can tune out for now, but your municipal electrical agreement expires in August 2015, so you might want to read this.

1. This all began when the 1997 Illinois Electric Service Customer Choice and Rate Relief Law came online. (Get it? Online?) Before then, the utility company – in this case, ComEd – provided all three parts of your home or business electricity. The three parts are the electricity itself, transmission of electricity to a local utility, and delivery of electricity by the utility through electric power lines leading into your home or business. Now, residents and businesses can choose the first part, the suppliers.

2. You don’t have to do anything. If you don’t choose another supplier within two billing periods after returning to ComEd, you automatically revert to being a ComEd supply customer for a year before you can pick a new supplier.

3. ComEd’s price for electricity is 7.596 cents/kilowatt hour.

4. Regardless of what you do/don’t do, your electric bill still comes from ComEd, and you still call ComEd if you have problems.

5. The choices and options are bewildering. Credit card offers seem simple by comparison. On the “Compare Offers Now” page, I counted 30 different companies that want to sell you electricity, but many of those companies offer multiple options, so it appears that the list runs into the hundreds. On the “Your Electric Choices” page, the count was about 50 companies (for residential customers).

6. In the end, you might save a lot of money. You might spend more. You might break even.

Happy shopping!

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. He also serves as a board member for the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, www.ninaonline.org. You can reach him at jasondakst@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @JasonAkst.

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