Local chambers of commerce push for cheaper electric bills for businesses


Reporter - Kendall Downing

CARTERVILLE, Ill. - It's a group effort to help out businesses' bottom lines. Ten southern Illinois chambers of commerce announced Wednesday they will combine to negotiate lower electric rates for their members.

Seven of the ten are in the Local 6 area: Carbondale, Carterville, Herrin, Marion, Murphysboro, West Frankfort, and Jefferson County.

Leaders made the announcement and gave a presentation Wednesday morning at John A. Logan College in Carterville. Illinois allows electric customers to choose their supplier and lock in a lower rate if they can.

Those chamber presidents agree that many small business owners are not taking advantage of that, because finding a cheaper provider takes time. Pooling all the customers together gives them more bargaining power.

Prom season has everyone busy at Melise's Boutique in Marion, Illinois. Owner Melise Smith said this time of year keeps her afloat.

"This is my black week, when I get into the black," she said.

But to have that special dress shine and sell, you've got to have lights and lots of them. From track to fluorescent, Melise's beams bright and her electricity bill shows is.

"From two, four, five hundred dollars," said Smith.

She pays Ameren's base rate and had aggregation companies hounding her to lower it, but she was always skeptical.

"You don't know who to really trust," said Smith.

Joni Barwick is Executive Director of the Marion Chamber of Commerce.

"We want to make sure our businesses are not falling through the cracks," she said.

She said the program will cut electric costs for participating businesses all along Illinois Route 13 and help to spur economic development.

"The Route 13 corridor is strong. We are growing," said Barwick.

The idea came from a pilot program by the Jefferson County Chamber. Businesses there saw rates almost 30% lower than what they were paying.

A prospect like that is good news for Melise Smith and her bottom line.

"There are things out there that are positive instead of always negative," said Smith.

The chambers are requiring that businesses opt in by the end of May.

To be eligible, businesses must be members of participating chambers of commerce and be located in Ameren or ComEd's service territory.

They also must not be under contract with an electric supplier for 2014.