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Why has your electric bill gone up?

Published: Friday, Feb. 11, 2011 8:35 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Feb. 11, 2011 8:37 p.m. CDT

PRINCETON — Though Princeton’s electric bills may have shown increased rates and charges, Princeton residents still have it pretty good, according to information presented at Wednesday night’s open forum on the city’s electric rates and bills

Princeton City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh presented a list of nearly 40-public owned electric utilities in Illinois, with Princeton’s rates coming in much lower than other communities.

“We actually have the lowest rates in the state of Illinois,” Fiegenschuh said.

Though as a consumer, the lower rate is a good thing, Fiegenschuh said it actually shows the city has underfunded its electric utility.

About 15 members of the public, as well as about 10 city officials and employees, attended Wednesday’s meeting to learn about increasing electricity costs, the need for power cost adjustments, and what customers can do to save money on their electric bills.

In explaining the electricity purchasing process for Princeton, Mike Genin, Gas and Energy Services for the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency (IMEA), said Princeton is one of 32 community members in the IMEA, which was formed in 1984. The IMEA buys its electricity on the open market and then sells that electricity to its members. In addition to receiving its wholesale electricity from the IMEA, Princeton also receives $1.2 million per year in capacity credits from IMEA for the Princeton power plant’s availability.

Genin said the open market for electricity is constantly fluctuating, from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. That fluctuation is due, in part, to the changing cost of needed fuel to make the electricity. The IMEA can only estimate its cost as it sells electricity to its members. Later, the IMEA may realize the actual cost was higher or lower than estimated, which results in the need for a “power cost adjustment.”

Fiegenschuh said the power cost adjustment, as seen on the customer’s bill, is a way for the city to pass on the true cost of providing the electricity to its customers, without having to make constant basic rate changes.

As a personal example, Fiegenschuh said his electric bill showed his power cost adjustment about doubled from December to January, though his family of five used approximately the same amount of kilowatt hours in both months. The adjustment reflects the higher cost of the city to buy its electricity in January, he said.

Also addressing the power cost adjustment issue, Superintendent of Electric Jason Bird said the power cost adjustment is not meant to be unfair to the resident but simply to help the city handle its costs.

“Power cost adjustment isn’t some scam for us to take more of your hard-earned money,” Bird said. “It really, truly is to cover our costs, and as your utility, we are trying to be as prudent and conservative with your dollars as we possibly can and to keep our rates as low as we possibly can.”

Fiegenschuh agreed, adding it is the city’s responsibility to make sure the city has a well-funded utility that is healthy.

To help residents save on the electric use, Bird also reviewed some of the programs which the city offers its customers, including free energy audits and the new Smart Meter program which will help residents monitor and control their electric use through a web port.

Fiegenschuh said the city will host another open forum this spring when the weather is nicer, so hopefully more people will be able to attend to learn more about their electric department, their electric bills and what people can do to save on their electric usage.

Comment on this story a www.bcrnews.com. 

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