The Chicago City Council today unanimously voted to approve a deal for the city to buy electricity in bulk on behalf of residents and small businesses.
The 50-0 vote gives Mayor Rahm Emanuel permission to ink the deal with Integrys Energy Services as soon as Thursday. The administration is still hammering out the final details and looking for the best time to jump in to ensure the anticipated prices, city officials said.
“I think we sent a clear message to the country, given that we’re the largest municipality now to adopt” bulk purchasing,” Emanuel said after the vote.
Chicago is the largest city in the country eligible to adopt such a plan under state laws. Only Ohio and Illinois laws allow for such efforts, according to city officials.
The vote, the mayor said, shows “that our residents are going to get what suburban residents getting for a while, which is saving on their utility bill.” Hundreds of suburbs have adopted the electricity arrangement in recent years.
Whenever the deal is completed, nearly 1 million residents can expect to see lower electricity rates starting in March as a result, officials said.
From March until May 2015, when the contract would expire, the average city resident would save up to $150, according to the administration, which based the estimates on current market conditions. The biggest savings would come in the first three months, before contracts that lock ComEd into paying higher-than-market rates for electricity expire.
The average homeowner can expect a $20 to $25 cut in monthly bills in March through May, city officials said. From June until May 2014, the savings will range from $7 to $10 a month. From that point until May 2015, savings would increase again, to about $10 to $15.
Total savings for the entire city are expected to be between $120 million and $125 million, while Integrys expects total gross revenue — before costs — of $600 million, according to the company.
Several aldermen spoke in favor of the electrical aggregation plan, with Ald. Richard Mell lauding Emanuel for taking what he said was an open, deliberative path to approval. "If we had taken one-tenth the time on the parking meter deal, we wouldn't have this egg on our faces," said Mell, 33rd. "We've had the opportunity to dissect it, look at it."
Ald Daniel Solis, 25th, applauded Emanuel for pushing for clean energy as part of the deal. "This is going to be the cleanest of the clean," Solis said.
In highlighting the benefits of the contract, Emanuel has pointed to an agreement by Integrys not to purchase any of its power from plants that produce electricity by burning coal as part of its deal with Chicago. The mayor noted that the city’s two coal-fired power plants are set to close earlier than planned, after the mayor pushed for that to happen.
Integrys’ plan not to purchase coal-fueled power would not have any immediate impact on the burning of coal in the United States, but over the long run it could nudge the marketplace away from producing energy that way, said Mark Pruitt of the Delta Institute, a city consultant on the issue.
The deal “establishes a method moving forward where we can start to demand higher standards from suppliers when it comes to energy issues,” Pruitt said. “And I would expect other municipalities will be following suit rather quickly, because now we’ve proven that it’s possible to eliminate coal from the portfolio without increasing prices for consumers.”
Integrys will be buying most of its electricity from plants that burn natural gas, which has left some observers concerned about how much of that gas would be produced by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process under fire in some quarters for its effects on the environment.
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