Electricity bills, project discussed by residents


Tips on reducing electricity bills and a letter-writing campaign on a planned seven-story housing development highlighted discussions at the Feb. 22 meeting of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association.

Commonwealth Edison offers a pricing program which charges customers an hourly market rate based on electricity use and is designed for home owners who can delay use of heavy appliances until times of the day when prices are low.

Citizens Utility Board outreach director Sarah Moskowitz said that the hourly pricing program works best for households where nobody is home during the day, especially on hot days when electrical demand peaks in the afternoon and drops by 6 p.m. "Most people save money, at least 15 percent," Moskowitz said.

Moskowitz also recommended that home owners sign up for ComEd’s peak-time savings program because it offers an opportunity to save money without risk. Customers who register for the program are credited on their bill when they reduce power use during designated periods when demand for electricity is high.

Moskowitz said that ideally all customers should be automatically registered for the program, but customers must opt in. She said that customers who do not reduce their use of electricity during the designated periods will not pay a higher rate as a result of the peak-time savings program.

The utility board is a nonprofit utility watchdog organization that was created by state legislation in 1983. The board works to lower electricity, gas and telephone rates.

Consumers frequently contact the board about "alternative companies going around and trying to get you to switch" from ComEd, Moskowitz said. "In 2007 ComEd got stuck with an overabundant supply," she said. "There was real room for the companies to go out and undercut the ComEd prices. The city got us a pretty decent deal."

More recently companies have started relying on their "old dirty tricks," and consumers should check with the board before switching suppliers, Moskowitz said. In some instances a company may offer a lower rate for three months, and then a variable rate kicks in, she said.

"Right now, it is likely that the regulated utility, ComEd, is your best choice for your electricity supplier," the board states in one of its brochures. The utility board can be reached at 800-669-5556.

Also at the meeting, association members voted to begin a campaign encouraging residents to send letters to city officials, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and city inspector general Joe Ferguson, opposing a planned 100-unit housing project at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. Several members said that sending letters through the U.S. mail would be more effective than sending e-mail messages.

The building would feature 60 affordable apartments and 20 CHA-subsidized apartments, with 62 parking spaces and ground-level offices and retail space. "The community pretty much is against it," association zoning committee chairwoman Colleen Murphy said.

The development would be part of a plan advocated by Alderman John Arena (45th) to bring hundreds of new apartments to Jefferson Park, Murphy said. "We suffer the consequences, quality of life issues," she said.

Arena and city zoning administrator Patricia Scudiero agreed to support rezoning the Northwest Highway site to a dense zoning classification as part of a legal settlement. City officials signed the agreement about two weeks before a Feb. 9 community meeting on the rezoning, and the agreement was not mentioned at the meeting.

The owner of the property, LSC Development, sued the city after Arena had the property downzoned to stop a plan to retrofit the existing industrial building on the site into a self-storage warehouse. There were no plans for residential units on the site at the time, but new plans call for the housing project and a five-story warehouse.

The association is asking its members to oppose rezoning the site at the March 16 meeting of the Chicago Plan Commission. The meeting will start at 10 a.m. in the Council Chamber at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.

Other industrial properties in the 5100 block of Northwest Highway also were downzoned, but no development plans have been announced for those parcels, which are for sale.

Another community group, Jefferson Park Forward, does not take positions on zoning proposals but has a policy that calls for increased density near the Jefferson Park CTA and Metra stations.

The association’s next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 29, at the Congregational Church of Jefferson Park, 5320 W. Giddings St.