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In an unprecedented new effort, Chambers of Commerce in Carbondale, Carterville, Centralia, Herrin, Jefferson County, Lawrence County, Marion, Murphysboro, Salem and West Frankfort all are joining efforts with Mount Vernon-based Affordable Gas & Electric, LLC (AGE), along with exclusive pricing retail energy supplier Ameren Energy Marketing in a group electricity buying group for members of the respective Chambers. Representatives of several area Chambers and officials from AGE unveiled the program at a press conference today. The effort builds upon a pilot program which began last fall.

In October, 2012, the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with AGE, launched the program for its members.  To date, the program has been hugely successful, with nearly 130 Chamber members participating and securing significant rate savings as a group.

“Our membership is constantly bombarded with phone calls from telemarketers offering savings on their electricity,” Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Brandon Bullard said.  “We were able to help our membership by implementing a program whereby the members could look to the Chamber to help give them direction on deregulated electricity.  By combining our membership, we were able to help secure “bulk” pricing for our members, giving them bulk purchasing power that wasn’t available to them by negotiating on their own.”

Affordable Gas & Electric recently assisted 28 communities in Southern Illinois with the passage of residential electric aggregation referendums.  With awareness of “group purchasing” at a peak, AGE looked to further expand the buying group associated with the JCCC.

“We approached Brandon about growing our negotiating power by joining other Chambers in Southern Illinois.  Brandon set up a meeting with representatives of the Marion and Herrin Chambers to present the idea, followed by the Carbondale and Murphysboro Chambers, and before you knew it, the group began to take shape,” Jeff Haarmann, managing partner of AGE, said.

Chamber leaders said the idea of businesses working together for a common good is at the heart of what their organizations are all about.

“The idea of combining our membership with others throughout Southern Illinois to negotiate for lower electricity rates for commercial accounts is something that speaks to the core of what we can do as a Chamber for our small and mid-sized business owners,” Joni Barwick, executive director of Marion’s Chamber of Commerce, explained. “We can become the experts for the dry cleaners, the auto repair shops and others that want to run their business, but look to us for guidance on issues that can positively affect their bottom line.”

Barwick noted even larger industrial, commercial or institutional-type electricity users will benefit from joining this group purchase as they will be part of an even larger group purchase.  In turn, the impact of larger customers joining the pool insures that smaller sized Chamber members will get the benefit of “large customer” electricity rates.  In Jefferson County, the City of Mt. Vernon, Magnum Steel and Mt. Vernon Township High School joined the chamber’s electricity aggregation pool, and helped businesses in that community gain bargaining power for all smaller businesses who participated.

Participating members of Jefferson County Chamber’s program collectively are saving more than $ 500,000 annually or nearly 29 percent on their commercial electricity supply rates.  The other Chambers expect to see similar savings for their membership. Depending upon participation from Chamber members in Southern Illinois, the potential economic impact to the region could mean well over $1.5 to $2 million of savings–dollars that will stay in local economies and will be spent several times over.

Les O’Dell, executive director of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce said this buying group represents one of those unique opportunities for Chambers to work together on behalf of members.

“While we all are fiercely loyal to our own communities and their businesses, we recognize that we all benefit from programs which promote growth in the entire region. This is one of those occurrences where we can collectively combine our membership and gain economies of scale and negotiating prowess” O’Dell added.

A final piece to the puzzle was the agreement to price this group’s electricity load, exclusively through the only retail electricity supplier based in Southern Illinois, Ameren Energy Marketing.  A subsidiary of Ameren Energy Resources, Ameren Energy Marketing has been providing market-priced electricity to the businesses that are the backbone of our Illinois economy for 13 years.  The 800 professionals employed by Ameren Energy Resources live, work and invest in Illinois and the communities they serve.

Haarmann noted that Ameren Energy Marketing has consistently been the most competitively priced supplier represented by AGE and has committed to a “substantial rate offering” for the group.  As the exclusive pricing partner, AEM will be provided with the opportunity to present the best possible price available to the group.  At the discretion of AGE and its Chamber partners, we will determine if the rate proposed is within the anticipated range or if further negotiations need to be addressed with other retail suppliers.

“We work with a number of retail suppliers and price our customers with three to four suppliers consistently,” he said.  “Ameren Energy Marketing has consistently proven to be a leader in winning our commercial accounts.  Commercial electricity negotiation is a bit more complex than residential electricity.  There is substantial time that goes into analyzing load profiles as commercial accounts can range from very, very large users all the way down to users that look more like residential.  We elected to let AEM have an exclusive shot at pricing this group’s electricity load because we wanted to stay true to our Southern Illinois partnership idea.  However, if we don’t like the rates they present, we will look elsewhere.  I truly don’t foresee that happening.  They’ve been a great partner to work with.”

Mike Grimes, Sales Manager at AEM stated, “As an Exclusive Pricing Partner, AEM is committed to helping each participant secure the most competitive pricing available.  AEM looks forward to providing these customers with competitive pricing and superior customer service as well as supporting a quality program that will benefit participating businesses in southern Illinois.”

Chamber members will find the program very easy to participate in, leaders added.  Most Chambers have a “button” on their websites that directs members to complete a downloadable registration form to be completed and sent in along with a copy of an Ameren utility.  The member will then receive confirmation that they have opted-in to the pricing pool.  Deadline for registering is May 31, at which time the pool will close and the pricing process will begin.  With a new fixed electric rate secured, contracts will be sent to each participating member for execution.  New lower electric rates are anticipated to begin with June/July meter read dates.

If a Chamber’s website does not have a “button” or link to the registration, members are directed to www.agellc.com , where each participating member has a “button” that leads to the same registration documents.

More information regarding each specific Chamber of Commerce’s program is available from the Chamber websites or by contacting the local Chamber office.  Non-Chamber members are encouraged to join the Chamber for the opportunity to join this unprecedented electricity buying group.

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