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Community Choice Aggregation: What You Need to Know

Residents, business owners can expect letters explaining how energy program will work.

Community Choice Aggregation: What You Need to Know

By now, you've probably heard that Oak Park has found new ways to have greener energy supplied to most residents and commercial space throughout the village.

But maybe you're just getting up to speed. Or maybe you've just received the village's mailer and are scratching your head about what exactly it is you need to do. We're here to help. First, a brief intro:

The program is called , and it's staked on the notion that the village will act on behalf of its people by bundling lots of electric accounts and seeking bids for electricity on the open market.

After months of discussion and debate — before and after and a in April — the village hired a consultant to look for a supplier, and just last month Oak Park signed a two-year contract with Chicago-based Integrys Energy Services to supply electricity and renewable energy credits, with 100-percent coming from wind and solar power. As much as 94 percent of that will come from Illinois, said K.C. Poulos, Oak Park’s sustainability manager.

Say What?
That's right. You're home, and maybe your local business, is technically being powered by wind. But it's not like there's some wind farm in Forest Park churning out all of this energy.

Instead, the village will receive renewable energy credits. It's a complicated system, which you can read about on the EPA's website, but essentially these credits will document that the total amount of energy used by Oak Parkers is added to the grid from wind-based and other renewable generation sources, village officials said.

When will the CCA program start?
It already has. The electricity rate will be 5.79 cents per kilowatt-hour, almost 2 cents lower than the rate charged to Commonwealth Edison customers. The new rate will first appear on the January bills.

Who's in the program?
Every Oak Park residential and small business account is automatically enrolled. The program will last for two years. A letter from Village President David Pope and a FAQ sheet explaining the program will be sent out to every ComEd account holder in Oak Park. An op-out postcard will be included. Those mail deliveries are expected to have reached residential and business account holders already.

Is participation mandatory?
Nope. You can check the box on the postcard and mail it back. The deadline is Nov. 17.

Can we opt out later?
Yep. You can leave the program at any time. However, there will be a $50 early termination fee.

Whoa, What? A Fee?
Poulos said Integrys buys the amount of energy based on the number of accounts that are signed up. If the number drastically changes, the firm is at risk, i.e., it could lose money. The firm just wants to manage the risk, she said.

Where will we pay the bills?
You'll still get the bills from Commonwealth Edison and you'll still pay 'em online, by mail or by phone. And you'll still have to call Com Ed when there are outages.

How much will I save?
Village officials are ballparking a savings of 25 percent on the power side of the bill over the life of the two-year contract, Poulos said.

How will the General Assembly's recent approval of a rate hike for Commonwealth Edison and the Smart Grid affect us?

It's hard to say at this point. The so-called smart grid portion of the legislation refers to the distribution side of the bill, Poulos said. She said the distribution rate would likely go up, but the village won’t know by how much until those rates hit the bills.

Have other communities done what Oak Park has done?

Yes. The northwestern Illinois Mississippi River town of Fulton put its CCA plan into effect in the spring. Late this summer, a consortium of communities known as the Northern Illinois Municipal Electric Collaborative, or NIMEC, went out to bid on electric rates this summer. Grayslake, Lincolnwood and Oak Brook locked into a rate early this fall, and a dozen or more communities may put similar referenda on their spring ballots.

I've heard someone's going door-to-door pushing better electric rates. Is this part of the village's program?

No. Those folks don't represent the village or the CCA program. Information provided by Oak Park will be clearly marked with village logos and won't distributed door-to-door.

Where can I learn more?

We've written on the Oak Park CCA; The Chicago Tribune explored the issue this summer; The Citizen's Utility Board, a non-partisan consumer watchdog group has a Q & A at their website. (Notably, they've sounded a cautious note about whether the programs save consumers money on their power bills.) The village of Oak Park has committed a few web pages to CCA on its official website.

I've still got questions. What now? 

Village officials say you can e-mail sustainability@oak-park.us with CCA questions. And the general number for is (708) 383-6400. 

And by all means, please pose your questions in the comments section below this article and we'll do our very best to get them answered in a timely fashion. 

Oak Park-River Forest Patech editor Casey Cora contributed to this report. 

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