Guest Column: CUB salutes rate-hike heroes

There’s a great scene in the film Apollo 13—the true story of three astronauts stranded in a disabled spacecraft—that reminds me of our fight against the ComEd rate hikes.

In the film, a NASA bureaucrat frets that this could be the space agency’s “worst disaster.” But legendary NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz correctly predicts: “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”

As I watched hundreds of electric customers stream into the Illinois Capitol recently for a boisterous rally to fight the rate hikes, I couldn’t help but feel that this is one of Illinois’ finest hours. It is true that the worst of times (or the worst of electric bills!) bring out the best in people.

While barnstorming the state in our “Don’t Get Shocked” campaign to lower Illinois’ electric bills, we’ve encountered a lot of “rate-hike heroes.” These are people doing creative things to stand up to very big and very wealthy power companies that want to make windfall profits at consumers’ expense.

Take Jeanne Lakin, who spoke at the Springfield rally. She’s gathered thousands of petition signatures to fight for fair power rates. Somehow, she’s accomplished all this while caring for her parents, teaching Sunday school, and battling lupus. “I’m not tired. I’m not going to give up,” she said.

While CUB fights the rate hikes in Springfield, there are many ways you can become a rate-hike hero in your own home. Take Ted and Sally Phillips, retirees who cut their ComEd bills in half by replacing two notorious household energy eaters—an old refrigerator and freezer—and using Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs), which burn 75 percent less energy. “I’m just a run-of-the-mill person,” Mr. Phillips said.

Here are a few other tips for “run-of-the-mill” people like you and me: Buy highly-efficient appliances with the “Energy Star” label. Make sure your refrigerator door is airtight. (Close the door on a piece of paper. You should feel tension when you pull it out.) Run the dishwasher only when you have a full load—and turn the heated dry selection off. Buy a programmable thermostat. Set your water heater to 120 degrees (the warm setting) and cover it with a special blanket you can buy at hardware stores.

“I’ve never really considered myself a ‘green’ person, but I’m determined to lower my electric consumption to withhold that additional money from ComEd,” said Mark Baich, who has cut energy use 25 percent by using CFLs, turning off his computers at night, and reminding his kids to turn off the hallway lights. (It’s a myth that frequently turning a light on and off significantly reduces the life of a bulb.)

Lakin, Baich and Phillips have one more piece of advice: pick up the phone! Call 1-800-719-3020 to keep pushing your legislators to roll back the rate hikes—or use the CUB Action Network, at, to e-mail them. “I think we’ve learned that people sticking together can make a difference in the Capitol,” Lakin said.

Of course, the power companies have tried to kill any sincere efforts at rate relief, but their frustrated and determined customers just won’t let this issue go away. So CUB will keep fighting right along-side all the rate-hike heroes for the ultimate “finest hour”—when Illinois creates a power-pricing system that doesn’t just pad power company profits.

Jim Chilsen is the director of communications for the Citizens Utility Board (CUB).

from the June 6-12, 2007, issue

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