Evanston residents move on to new energy supplier

Kevin Trahan

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Evanston residents will officially switch their main electrical provider from Commonwealth Edison to Constellation Energy before their August meter read, after a March 20 referendum passed with a 73 percent vote to switch power suppliers and an April 30 city council vote for Constellation Energy as the power provider.

Residents switching to Constellation Energy will receive a rate of $0.04797 per kilowatt, which is 38 percent lower than the current rate offered by ComEd. The new energy provided will also be 100 percent renewable.

Electricity in Illinois is deregulated by the state, so residents have the ability to get power from any provider that they want. However, to get a cheap rate, Evanston participated in a program called Community Choice Aggregation, bundling together all small business owners and households in the city to negotiate a cheaper rate than customers could find on the open market.

“The program does provide for the opportunity to reduce emissions and be a greener option, but at the most basic level it’s designed for the city to help the city negotiate for cheaper electrical supply,” said Catherine Hurley, Evanston’s sustainable programs organizer. “The cost savings that were resulting were very significant. People were in favor of the good rate that we got.”

Because Illinois electricity is deregulated, Evanston residents have the ability to opt out of the new program. However, since the new rate is cheaper and renewable, only around 500 account holders, or 2 percent of the city, decided to opt out. Regardless of which company is providing the electricity for customers, it will still flow through ComEd’s lines and ComEd will be in charge of maintenance.

“I’m not able to speak to (the reasons people opted out) specifically, but some may be unfamiliarity with process,” said Eric Palmer, a public information officer for Evanston.

While many communities aggregated their power like Evanston, few decided to go with 100 percent renewable energy, and lack of familiarity may be part of those decisions, as well. However, Evanston saw much more upside than downside when going with 100 percent renewable energy.

Nate Kipnis, the co-chair of the renewable energy task force at Citizens’ Greener Evanston, said the city is still saving money with the switch. She said by using 100 percent renewable energy, $7.9 million is saved in total.

“The difference between doing it at 100 percent renewable energy vs. either 75 percent or the state-mandated 6 percent was almost nothing,” Kipnis said. “On average, by going with 100 percent renewable (energy) $264 (was saved) for the average household (per year). I want to say something like save $267 (would have been saved) if we went with 75 percent (renewable energy), something fractional.”

Going with 100 percent renewable energy is part of Evanston’s climate action plan. The goal of the plan is to decrease emissions by 13 percent by the end of 2012. Switching power providers will be a big step in making that happen.

“We’ll know more after we get the final numbers back,” Hurley said,” but preliminary estimates indicate that it will help to not only meet, but exceed the goal.”

Kipnis said that choosing 100 percent renewable energy helps set Evanston apart from many of its counterparts who didn’t understand the process – some concerns they had, like lack of wind on certain days, he said, were non-issues – in addition to helping meet the goals of the climate action plan.

The city, Kipnis said, has the same goals as Citizens’ Greener Evanston and attempted to find a plan that benefits both consumers’ wallets and the environment.

“The city was totally on board with this,” he said. “Most of other cities, a lot of cities went for aggregation and went for getting lower power cost, but very few cities went for 100 percent renewable (energy). A whole bunch didn’t do it, and I just found that amazing. Here’s an opportunity to make a statement in line with everything else we’re doing as a city and take advantage of it.”

The city will reevaluate the plan and renegotiate the plan in 12 months when the new contract expires. However, for the next year, Kipnis said Evanston is in a good situation.

“It couldn’t be easier,” he said. “There’s no downside to this; none.”