Illinois consumers have lost about $1.6 billion total to alternative suppliers since 2015–but Ameren customers, for a change, saw some savings last year, according to a review of annual reports from the Illinois Commerce Commission’s Office of Retail Market Development (ORMD).
Under Illinois law, ComEd, Ameren and MidAmerican customers are able to choose an alternative electric supplier, including offers that companies pitch to individuals as well as community power, a.k.a. “municipal aggregation,” deals. See CUB’s resources, including this tips blog on electric competition, specific information for people in ComEd and Ameren territories, as well as our fact sheet on municipal aggregation offers and our new review of current aggregation offers.
ORMD, the ICC’s office that focuses on electric competition, recently released its 2023 annual report. During the time that was covered, June 1, 2022 through May 31, 2023, Illinois consumers were slammed with high utility power prices due to a number of factors, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Here’s an overview of how consumers fared over the past year:
- On average, residential customers with alternative suppliers in ComEd territory paid an average of about $6.89 million more per month (or an average of about 1.74 cents more per kilowatt-hour), compared with ComEd’s supply price. Because of the spike in utility prices, the overall losses for ComEd customers with a supplier were lower than what they were in previous years.
- In Ameren territory, the numbers tell a vastly different story. That’s because unlike in ComEd territory, where about 36 percent of alternative supplier customers were on municipal aggregation plans, about 72 percent of supplier customers in Ameren territory were on aggregation offers from June 2022 through May 2023. Many of those plans predated the spike in power prices, and, thus, secured big savings for consumers who were spared an Ameren supply rate that doubled during that period. In the Ameren territory, residential customers with alternative suppliers saved on average around $5.52 million per month (or an average of about 1.435 cents per kWh), compared with Ameren’s supply rate.
- The highest supplier rate reported in Ameren territory was a variable rate of 30.75 cents per kWh in October 2022. (Variable means the rate can change monthly.) The highest rate in ComEd territory was a variable rate of 39.1 cents per kWh in May of 2023, according to the report.
- 2023 also saw a 15.8 percent decrease in total Illinois residential customers served by an alternative supplier. The report showed 1.12 million Illinois residential customers on alternative supplier plans, compared with 1.33 million the year before.
- While customers saved in the early years of electric choice in Illinois, the numbers have been dismal since 2015. In fact, the Ameren savings marked the first time in recent years that customers have saved money with alternative suppliers. Overall, even when counting last year’s savings, Ameren customers have lost about $500 million with suppliers since 2015, and ComEd customers $1.1 billion. Here’s a yearly breakdown:
|Total Losses, ComEd customers||Total Losses, Ameren customers|
|June 2015-May 2016||$115,204,320 (lost)||$10,632,844 (lost)|
|June 2016-May 2017||$152,108,081 (lost)||$45,856,433 (lost)|
|June 2017-May 2018||$138,243,088 (lost)||$89,344,091 (lost)|
|June 2018-May 2019||$124,183,586 (lost)||$121,879,268 (lost)|
|June 2019-May 2020||$144,506,896 (lost)||$107,432,518 (lost)|
|June 2020-May 2021||$240,244,266 (lost)||$167,152,505 (lost)|
|June 2021-May 2022||$112,224,333 (lost)||$24,050,274 (lost)|
|June 2022-May 2023||$82,731,021 (lost)||$66,305,331 (saved)|
|Utility Totals:||$1,109,445,591 (lost)||$500,042,602 (lost)|
|Grand Total:||$1,609,488,193 (lost)|
CUB’s tips to avoid bad alternative supplier deals and pay the lowest price possible:
- Know the utility supply rate and how it compares to the offer. As of Oct. 1, these are the ComEd and Ameren Illinois supply rates (also listed on CUB’s Electric page):
- ComEd: 6.872 cents per kWh.
- Ameren Illinois: 8.107 cents per kWh for up to 800 kWh of usage; beyond that, the rate is 7.094 cents per kWh. Warning: Utility supply rates have dropped significantly compared with last year. When it comes to deals pitched to you over the phone, via mail or door-to-door, it is likely that the utility rate is your best. If you want to shop for a supplier, do a thorough price comparison.
- Be wary about showing your bill to just anybody. If somebody comes to your door and says they want to look at your electricity or gas bills, don’t hand it over OR give out your account number, unless you are absolutely sure you want to sign up. A sales rep who sees your bill can get your account number and sign you up for a deal without your permission–a scam called “slamming.” Any decision you make about your utility bills is important, and you don’t have to make it on your doorstep. Don’t give out any sensitive info, even if the person at the door claims to be from the utility company. Instead, ask where you can get more information about the offer and end the conversation.
- If you’re on a “municipal aggregation” power deal, confirm the price, how it compares with the utility’s supply rate, and for how long the contract is. It’s possible your community has negotiated a lower rate, but don’t assume that. Verify.
- Make sure the alternative supplier offer is not an introductory rate that ends in a month or two. And if it is, find out when it ends and what the new rate will be.
- Scan the fine print for hidden monthly fees. Also, if it’s a low fixed rate, check the fine print to see if the company allows itself to change the rate during certain market conditions.
- Be careful of multi-year deals. The utility’s price changes a few times a year so you don’t want to get locked into a long-term deal that goes sour a year into it.
- If you want to sign up, watch your bill carefully. Be prepared to get out of the offer if you notice it stops saving you money– you should be able to get out with no penalty, thanks to reforms the Illinois Attorney General’s office, CUB and other consumer advocates fought for in 2019.
Remember, there are other ways to reduce your bills that are more reliable than switching to an alternative supplier:
- See if you qualify for energy assistance. The application process for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) reopens on Oct. 2. To apply or learn more, visit www.helpillinoisfamilies.com or call the Help Illinois Families Assistance Line at 1-833-711-0374.
- Practice energy efficiency. The utilities offer no- and low-cost programs to help cut costs. (Pro tip: Consider a Home Energy Assessment, offered by ComEd and Ameren (Ameren’s program is for income-qualified customers).
- Consider joining ComEd Peak Time Savings/Ameren Peak Time Rewards. These programs (one for ComEd customers, and one for Ameren customers) give you a bill credit if you’re able to reduce your energy usage for a limited number of hours on certain days (typically hot summer afternoons) when electricity demand is highest. Demand response programs like these give you incentives to reduce energy usage when demand is at its peak and fossil-fuel power plants work their hardest. Since a significant part of our power bills goes to making sure power plants can meet high demand, lowering peak demand can cut our costs.
- Consider joining ComEd Hourly Pricing/Ameren Power Smart Pricing. These demand-response programs–Hourly Pricing and Power Smart Pricing–charge a wholesale market price that can change hourly, compared with the traditional rate that only changes about twice a year. They encourage customers to put off heavy energy usage (laundry, for example) until prices are lowest: late night and early morning. These programs reduce peak demand and cut the need for fossil-fuel power plant operation. While savings are not guaranteed, typical participants have saved an average of 10-15 percent on their electricity supply costs.
- Explore solar power: Consider installing solar panels using new state and federal incentives. Or, if that’s not an option, check the Community Solar deals in your service area. Community solar allows you to enjoy the benefits of solar power (lower bills) without having to install panels on your property. Currently, all community solar deals claim to save participants money compared with the utility’s supply price, but make sure to read the fine print and check out our shopping tips. Plus, remember that the waiting list for offers can be months, even up to a year.