Basic Information on Electric Choice for Illinois Residents

Thursday March 15, 2012
Posted at 10:12

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If you live in Illinois and have electricity distributed to your home by ComEd or Ameren Illinois, you live in an area that has been deregulated. That means the public utility monopolies, which were once the only companies that could sell electricity, have been broken up and the ability to sell electricity expanded to include alternative retail electric suppliers, or ARES, that are allowed to supply electricity and compete with each other for your business.

As a result, you’ve been given what’s referred to as electric choice, which means you can choose whether to buy your electricity from your utility or from an alternative retail electricity supplier.

Although electric choice can sometimes be confusing, it’s really quite simple. Here is some basic information about the roles that the electric utilities and ARES play in areas of Illinois that have electric choice, how they affect you, and what choices you can make about your electricity supply.

What the Deregulated Electric Utilities Do

ComEd and Ameren Illinois take electricity that is put onto the grid by power generation companies and distribute it to your home. This is called electricity distribution.

The utilities are also responsible for maintaining, repairing and upgrading all of the equipment used to distribute power to your home, including wires, poles, transformers and meters. Additionally, the utilities are responsible for responding to emergencies related to distribution, such as power outages and sparking wires.

The utilities aren’t in the business of selling electricity, which is referred to as electricity supply, but they are required to sell electricity to you if you choose not to buy your power from an ARES. The price of electricity supplied by the utilities is set and regulated by the state through an annual auction.

ComEd and Ameren Illinois view all of their electricity distribution customers equally, regardless of who supplies their power. Customers who receive electricity supply from the utility aren’t treated any differently than customers who receive electricity supply from an ARES. The way the utilities provide customer service, fix equipment and respond to outages and other emergencies is the same for everyone.

What the ARES Do

The ARES are only involved in electricity supply. Unlike the utilities, the ARES aren’t involved in dealing with equipment like wires or poles and are not involved in responding to outages or other emergencies. If you choose to buy your electricity from an ARES, the utility that distributes power to your home will still be responsible for maintaining equipment and responding to outages.

ARES have more flexibility with pricing, which can benefit customers. Because ARES compete with one another for your business and purchase power in bulk continuously throughout the year, they may sell electricity at lower rates than the utilities.

Like any other kind of company, ARES are not all the same. They best ARES offer competitive rate plans, high levels of customer service and provide additional features such as a comprehensive website, mobile-friendly information and Spanish-language customer service representatives.

What Choices You Have

If electricity is distributed to your home by ComEd or Ameren Illinois, you have only one, simple choice to make: who to buy your electricity from. You can’t choose the utility that distributes electricity to your home, but you can choose whether that electricity is supplied by the regulated utility or one of the competitive ARES operating in your area.

It’s important to note that you’re not required to switch to an ARES. However, if you choose to buy your electricity from your utility, you’ll have no choice when it comes to your electricity rate or the terms of your electricity plan, which are both regulated by the state. The only way to have an option when it comes to rates and plan terms is to shop around for an ARES that gives you the best combination of pricing and features.

Sources

Plug In Illinois, “Electric Choice Basics.”

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