Legislation to Raise Electric Rates Heads to Gov. Quinn’s Desk
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Legislation to raise electric rates to help pay to modernize Illinois' power grid is on its way to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn, despite his repeated pledges to veto it.
The energy bill would raise electric rates as part of a $3 billion, 10-year plan to give Commonwealth Edison and Ameren money for basic infrastructure and a modern Smart Grid.
The bill would allow a 2.5 percent annual rate increases for the first three years. ComEd bills are projected to climb about $36 a year, while Ameren customers would pay about $34 more by the project's 10th year.
It's estimated consumers might save $7 to $10 per month by using smart meters.
Com Ed claims the Smart Grid technology will allow consumers to monitor and reduce energy usage - and will help the company respond more effectively to power outages. Com Ed serves approximately 3.8 million customers in northern Illinois.
Com Ed calls the measure "the most comprehensive electric utility-based job creation and capital investment program in generations," though Quinn claims it places too big of a burden on consumers. However, critics say the legislation guarantees ComEd and Ameren higher profits on the backs of consumers.
Quinn's "anti" stance caused supporters to put the measure on a type of legislative hold. The hope was they could use the extra time to win over the governor and other critics, including the AARP and the Citizens Utility Board.
The proposal's House sponsor, State Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park), said that it didn't work. But he said the storms that knocked out power for days in suburban Chicago early this summer prove why the power grid needs to get "smart."
"There's a chance that some of these things, through redirecting the power source and just the knowledge of where it's at and how many people are affected by each individual one, that we could have used that information in order to get some of these people back on line quicker," McCarthy said.
McCarthy said even though there is still opposition, he wanted the measure to get to the governor's desk so Quinn would have to act on it before October's veto session.
Earlier this year, Quinn and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a joint statement urging the Illinois Senate to reject the measure before it became law.
"While Commonwealth Edison and Ameren talk about investment in Smart Grid, Senate Bill 1652 is clearly not just about investing in this technology," wrote Quinn and Madigan at the time. "This legislation locks in guaranteed, significant annual profits for the utility companies without real oversight by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC)."
According to the Governor's office, ComEd rates would increase by approximately $180 million - or 9 percent -- every year for 10 years.
ComEd continued Monday to call on Quinn to sign the bill.
"Since its introduction last winter, the bill has undergone significant revisions to address concerns raised by the governor and multiple stakeholders. It is clear that the benefits provided by the bill greatly exceed its costs and allow Illinois the opportunity to invest in much-needed infrastructure improvements," the company said in a statement.
The measure's sponsors predicted they could find enough votes to override Quinn if he follows through with his threat to veto the measure. McCarthy said if it is needed, he will introduce a follow-up measure to appease those concerns. He said that could include requiring the utilities to set aside money to help low-income customers afford their electric bills, or a lower return on equity.