More and more states are recognizing the savings and benefits which come to customers when they allow customers to choose their energy provider, instead of forcing customers to buy their energy supply from the monopoly utility.

The most recent example is in Illinois, where nearly 1 million additional customers will soon have the right to choose their supplier of natural gas.

Currently, all customers at Nicor Gas, North Shore Gas, and Peoples Gas have the ability to choose their natural gas supplier.  At these utilities, alternative natural gas suppliers compete to win each customer's business, offering lower rates or value-added services.  The local utility -- such as Nicor -- still delivers the customer's gas through its network of pipes, and handles all delivery issues and emergencies, without change.

At Ameren Illinois Gas, however, the story has been different. At Ameren, to date, only non-residential customers have been able to choose their natural gas supplier.  Residential customers had not been granted the ability to shop among competing natural gas suppliers for their service.  Additionally, while all non-residential customers were authorized to shop, Ameren's current "transportation" program isn't conducive to choice among small businesses, and had an annual window during which customers had to decide whether to shop or not.

That's all about to change.

In December, the Illinois Commerce Commission approved the expansion of full natural gas choice to all customers at Ameren Illinois -- covering some 800,000 customers.  Ameren's new "small volume" transportation program, which still requires specific tariff approval from the ICC, will provide Ameren residential customers and small businesses with the opportunity to save money on their gas bill, just like customers at Nicor, North Shore, and Peoples.  For residential and small business customers, customers will be able to shop for a competing gas supplier at any time -- with no deadlines or specific "windows."

This puts the power of competition in customers' hands, and allows them to drive lower prices and innovation in the natural gas industry.  Customers dissatisfied with their service or rates can "fire" their supplier by choosing a competing provider, making energy suppliers accountable to customers.

Ameren Gas is only the latest example of policymakers recognizing the value created for customers through energy choice.  As SaveOnEnergy has previously detailed, electric choice is coming to almost 50,000 new customers in the Sharyland service areas in Texas this May, while efforts are underway to introduce or expand customer choice in places like Michigan, Indiana, and Vermont.