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No joke, hourly electricity prices can actually drop below zero

Most ComEd customers are stuck on the utility’s standard electricity price that only changes twice a year, so it may be hard to believe that the actual market price of electricity can get really low, even, for short periods drop below zero.

That’s right, the market price occasionally drops below zero. But even if that’s rare, savings in ComEd’s Hourly Pricing program—which charges customers a market-based price that changes hourly—is not. In fact, Hourly Pricing (and a similar Ameren Illinois program called Power Smart Pricing) have saved participants an average of 15 percent on the supply portion of their bills. (Moreover, a recent analysis by CUB and Environmental Defense Fund found that 97 percent of ComEd customers could have saved on Hourly Pricing in 2016.)

Hourly Pricing is a “demand-response” program—which encourages participants to shift the bulk of their electricity usage away from times when power demand is high (typically weekday afternoons) and thus help reduce that demand. Reducing demand is good for the planet, because it lessens the need for inefficient, aging coal plants, but it also is good for our pocketbooks. Not only do participants typically save money, but because programs like this reduce demand, they also help reduce electricity costs for all of us.

What do hourly prices look like?

When enrolled in  Hourly Pricing, ComEd will send you alerts via phone, text or email that warn you when prices are trending high, or are expected to the next day. (You can also visit a cool table that tracks the hourly price.)

In the image below, you see that prices on an August day this year dropped to zero, and even below, for a short time. (How does that happen? Because at certain times in the market, supply is abundant and demand is low.) Keep in mind it is possible for the market price to increase significantly—and those are times when you avoid heavy usage.

Hourly Prices for ComEd from Tuesday, August 7. Note that between 6 a.m and 8 a.m. prices dropped to zero, and below. ComEd’s standard rate currently is 7.358 cents per kilowatt-hour through September.

Is Hourly/Power Smart Pricing a good fit for your household?

It may be a good option to consider if:

  • Your monthly electric bill is greater than $50. Be sure to consider if you can actually adjust your electricity usage at particular times of the day.
  • You heat your home with electricity.
  • You own an electric vehicle (EV). (Prices are generally lower at night, when you’re likely at home and able to recharge. CUB Executive Director David Kolata, a new EV driver, has had great success with Hourly Pricing. Read his story.)

Both Hourly Pricing and Power Smart Pricing are managed by Elevate Energy, a nonprofit group that understands the importance of demand response and customer service. Read CUB’s fact sheets on Hourly Pricing and Power Smart Pricing, and get more information from ComEd and Ameren about their programs.