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Here’s what you should know about choosing your energy supplier in Illinois — and how to potentially save money on your energy bills.
If you live in Chicago or any part of Illinois, you have a choice in where your electricity comes from. Use it wisely.
For more than 20 years, residents of Illinois have had a legal right to choose where their electricity comes from. Under the state’s energy deregulation act, you can select your energy supplier, potentially saving money on your energy bills.
„A lot of times if you shop at another provider, you can get your electricity bill lowered overall,” says Cliff Haefke, director of the Energy Resources Center at the University of Illinois Chicago. „But it does take some homework and for you as the homeowner to look up who these different electric suppliers are.”
There’s a lot of risk when switching energy suppliers, so be sure to check all your options. „In recent years, Illinois consumers have lost more than $800 million from alternative electric suppliers,” according to the Citizens Utility Board, a nonprofit whose goal is to help people with their energy bills. „So in the current electricity market, it’s likely that the regulated utility is your best bet. If you are considering an electricity offer, be careful to ask good questions and read the fine print before signing up.”
What is energy deregulation, what kind of energy plans are available in Illinois and how do you find the best rates? Read on to learn more.
The table below shows the current price to compare — the standard rate available from your utility company — and the price range of options available through Choose Energy, which is owned by the same parent company as CNET.
All rates displayed are accurate as of June 22, 2023, for ZIP code 60002 (ComEd) and 60911 (Ameren). CNET staff regularly update these rates but they may have changed since the last update. For the most current rate information in your area, please enter your ZIP code at choosenergy.com. These rates only represent the supply charges, not the utility’s delivery charges or any taxes.
Illinois passed its energy deregulation bill in 1999 and it took effect for every energy customer in the state by 2002. It is one of 29 states that allow people to choose their energy suppliers. What does that mean? Homeowners get electricity through a network of three entities: the transmission lines that carry electricity; the utilities that distribute electricity into a home; and the suppliers that generate electricity through the burning of fossil fuels or through solar, wind, hydroelectric or nuclear power. It’s the last piece — the supplier — in which deregulation allows for choice, as people are typically locked into their utility based on location.
„A customer, no matter where they get their electric supply from, will always pay the local utility for their services for transporting the electricity from the larger grid into your house,” Haefke said. „What you can shop for is the generation side. You can lock in different rates, different contracts, whether it’s a three-month rate, a six-month rate, a 12-month rate or a 24-month rate.”
Illinois is served by three major investor-owned electric utilities (there are also smaller municipal utilities in the state):
While residents are locked into these utilities based on where they live, they can choose their energy supplier and potentially save money on their energy bills.
This is how a deregulated energy market differs from a conventional utility system.
There are three primary types of electricity plans in Illinois.
Just because you can choose a supplier doesn’t mean you have to — or even that you should.
„You could just stay with your local utility, and they would give you electric rates,” Haefke said. „You can go just with the electric provider that is in your neighborhood, for example ComEd in northern Illinois, and it will have the supply, transmission and distribution all bundled together. That’s the easiest option.”
While you’re locked in with your local utility and have to pay its distribution charges, you can tap the market for energy suppliers in the state to potentially save money. This will not only allow you to choose the price of your electricity, but the terms of the contract (ranging from three to 24 months) and the source of electricity, for example nuclear or hydropower.
Like the second option above, you’ll still be locked into your local utility and pay its network fees. But if you track how much energy you use at certain points of the day, it may make sense to take advantage of the real-time market. Electricity becomes more expensive during peak times — say, in the mornings before people leave for work and when they return home — than at nighttime when people are asleep.
„We have a lot of nuclear generation in northern Illinois. Those nuclear plants cannot be turned down, so electricity becomes really inexpensive in the evenings,” Haefke said. „Those who may want to take advantage of that hourly electric pricing model are people who work outside of their homes and don’t consume much electricity during the day, but they are home in the evenings.”
If you’d like to choose your energy supplier and potentially save money on your energy bills, it will take just a bit of work. Illinois has a website with information on switching as well as a marketplace of suppliers that service different utility customers. The Citizens Utility Board has resources that help people with their energy bills.
„It comes down to the homeowner doing their homework and how far out they want to lock their pricing,” Haefke said. „If you go for the short term, three months, six months, then you have to go shopping again. I don’t want to be shopping every three months, I would rather stick with something a little more long term that is reasonable. Then I only shop maybe once or twice a year or once every other year.”
There’s also the question of whether to go with a fixed or variable rate. „Fixed rates are easier to manage because it doesn’t matter when you use your electricity,” Haefke said. „But if you are a savvy energy user, are willing to change some of your behaviors and/or you are not home during the peak periods of the day, the variable rate could be an advantage.”
There are a few important considerations when choosing an electric plan. Most important is the rate — the price per kilowatt-hour that an electric supplier charges. But there are other nuances to consider. Some suppliers may offer a great rate for the first month then raise it or switch to a variable. They may charge additional monthly fees on top of the rate. Suppliers may also lock you into a term that ranges from a few months to two years. Look out for any gimmicks or hidden fees (like for low usage) and seek out customer reviews or testimonials. As mentioned above, the Citizens Utility Board has resources and can help with energy bills.
Switching your energy supplier is relatively easy. With your utility account number and proof of residence, you can engage a supplier online or on the phone, and it should handle the rest. Just note any early termination terms. As of 2020, Illinois’ HEAT Act has banned exit fees from suppliers.
The cheapest rates will depend on who your utility is and when you’re shopping for an energy supplier, as rates regularly change. You can check Illinois’ energy marketplace website for up-to-date rates.
The best energy plan is the one you feel most comfortable with, whether it’s with your utility, an alternative energy supplier or the real-time marketplace. Choose the plan that offers you the best rate and little to no headaches.
Updated on Jun 25, 2023
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Compare Electricity Rates in Illinois – CNET
Your guide to a better future