Is Illinois on the cusp of a new era of electricity competition?

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A report produced by the Illinois Commerce Commission notes that while fewer communities as a whole are taking energy service from a competitive energy supplier, more individual households are shopping for electric offers on their own.

Energy & Environmental Publishing
Contact: Jeffrey Tomich

More Customers Shopping Around

Another sign the residential market is changing: While Chicago and other municipalities in Illinois are returning to incumbent utilities, more individual households are shopping for electric offers on their own.

It’s a point in the 47-page report that also caught the attention of Kevin Wright, a former ICC member and head of the Illinois Competitive Energy Association, a trade association of competitive energy suppliers.

Wright believes the trend reflects a market where customers are becoming increasingly aware and comfortable shopping for electric service on their own, not solely relying on their local government to do it on their behalf.

“When you look at residential competition, it’s really been driven by the aggregation programs,” he said. “But I’m optimistic for the opportunity for [alternative retail electric suppliers] to go after those customers in individual contracts.”

Direct Energy, a member of the association that has contracts with nine communities in ComEd’s footprint, has made a policy shift in Illinois and other states with municipal aggregation to focus signing up customers directly, said Teresa Ringenbach, senior manager of government and regulatory affairs in the Midwest for Direct Energy.

In Illinois, that has meant rolling out offers that make use of the millions of smart meters being installed across Chicago and northern Illinois.

Direct Energy last year began offering its “free power days” service to customers in ComEd’s service area that already have smart meters. The offer allows customers free use of electricity Saturday or Sunday as a way to help manage energy costs by shifting high-use activities from other days of the week.

Under another Direct Energy offer, customers receive a Nest thermostat.

Ringenbach and others believe additional service offerings tailored to specific customer needs will be made available as smart meter deployment continues.

“I think that the market as a whole is going through a transition,” she said.

Meters providing more control

That’s also the future envisioned by Kolata of the Citizen Utility Board, which has joined with the Environmental Defense Fund to push for technical, policy and legal help to enable service providers to be able to leverage the power of the smart meters being installed.

In years to come, price won’t distinguish the service provided by the utility from what’s offered by so-called alternative retail electric suppliers, he said. It will be energy efficiency, demand response, solar, energy storage and other behind-the-meter services that will help consumers better manage energy consumption.

They include a proposed “open data access framework” that would establish standards for customers to obtain smart-meter data in convenient formats either from the meter or online. The customer could also allow the data to be accessed by third parties including competitive electric suppliers (EnergyWire,Aug. 19, 2014).

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