Guest Column: Shedding some light on electric rate freeze issue

The General Assembly started week two of the fall veto session again in the magnificence of the Old State Capitol as our stately “Pride of the Prairie” continues to be renovated. Two major issues have overshadowed many lesser ones—extending the utility rate freeze and raising the minimum wage.

Senate Bill 1714, sponsored in the House by Rep. George Scully (R-Crete), was halted as the Republicans caucused immediately after the bill was called. My colleagues and I adjourned to the stately old library office, last officially used in 1877, to discuss our options. To Republican Leader Tom Cross’ great credit, he did not ask for a unified caucus stance. He simply asked us to vote our conscience and for what is best for our districts.

The rate freeze extension is such a major issue with far-reaching ramifications. Most importantly, as opposed to the last extension in 1999, the reverse auction ordered by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), which took place in September, requires ComEd to pay $63 a megawatt and sell power to customers for $36 a megawatt hour for the next three years.

Something you must understand: the governor appoints the five members of the ICC. He publicly stated he would fire any one of them who voted for the reverse auction. They did, and he didn’t.

Also of major significance are the actions of the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), of which I am a card-carrying member. No one ever takes them to task because they are perceived as the champion of the little guy. Here is a reality check.

Those who were here in 1997 say there is little doubt that CUB and AARP were the driving force to create deregulation. We all agree it is a good thing. What you didn’t hear was that the General Assembly granted CUB a million dollars a year from ComEd on top of reducing ComEd bills to consumers by 20-plus percent. (We seldom remember our costs going down.) The million a year was to be used to explain to the public how utility deregulation works.

I, for one, have missed the explanation on how that $8 million they have received so far has been wisely spent.

Here are some facts: Exelon, the parent of ComEd, owns our nuclear-generating plant. Everyone knows they are making big money. ComEd, a subsidiary of Exelon, now owns the distribution system, such as the power lines, because of deregulation.

In October, ComEd asked ICC for $300 million to upgrade their distribution system. ICC granted them $8 million. ComEd will immediately go to junk bond status if the rate freeze is extended. Exelon cannot bail them out any more than GM could bail out Chevrolet as a result of federal anti-trust regulations.

Have CUB and AARP told you this? Of course not. After all, they are the champions of the little guy. How disingenuous can they get? They are lobbying to extend the freeze and, quite frankly, it downright angers me that they failed to point out the devastating effects of extending the freeze. This extension will create a debacle that will pale the one in California.

Leader Tom Cross and Senate President Emil Jones (strange allies) have been working on a compromise bill. Speaker Mike Madigan, however, refuses to call it in the House. We, the consumers, will lose.

With all of the issues this freeze raises, there is no room for me to discuss the minimum wage increase this week. Stay tuned.

As always, you can reach me, Sally or Barb at (815) 232-0774 or e-mail us at You can also visit my Web site at It’s always a pleasure to hear from you.

Jim Sacia is the Republican state representative for the 89th District.

From the Dec. 13-19, 2006, issue

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