Hanging Out in Rockford: Reverse auction of electricity will harm everyone in Illinois

I read with interest the guest column by state Rep. Jim Sacia (R-89) (Dec. 13-19, 2006, issue of The Rock River Times). I think, in the interest of full disclosure, Rep. Sacia should reveal any and all monies he has received from the utility industry. This goes far beyond Republicans favoring the interest of big business as this reverse-auction debacle will harm everyone in Illinois, from the largest business to the smallest homeowner buying electricity for his house.

First of all, he fails to make clear that the two parts of the picture, Commonwealth Edison and their parent company, Exelon, were all one in a past life. Under the George W. Bush administration’s push to deregulate utilities fostered by the single-largest campaign contributor to the president’s campaign (he gave more than half a million personally) Ken Lay, Illinois got sucked into this deregulation nonsense.

The folks at Exelon were willing to trade a nine-year rate freeze for the ability to chop their company up into pieces and effectively sell power to themselves. They should have been—they were the most expensive power company in the nation at the time. It took nine years before our rates were as high as our neighbor, Wisconsin Power. In return for this, they gave the citizens of Illinois supposed deregulation.

I say supposed deregulation because they set the system up so that, for the most part, no one wants to come in to sell our citizens electricity. When you go to the gas station to buy gasoline, another source of energy, you don’t have to sign a year contract to buy gas at that station. All you have to do is put your credit card in the slot and punch a few buttons. It is much easier to deliver electricity. You don’t have to put the hose in the tank; it is already there. It is a lot simpler to supply power to the grid than it is to conduct thousands of hook-ups at gas stations. Yet, the legislation doesn’t deal with this. It was set up not to work.

You, as a consumer, have to make a big decision, one you are perhaps not competent to make, and you have to commit to it a year at a time. You cannot say, “Oops, you are charging me too much,” and move on to another supplier. That is the way true deregulation would work, and that is why the powers that were made sure it would never happen by setting it up as they did.

The representative would have you believe Commonwealth Edison would have to buy power and sell it at half the price for which it was purchased. (First, remember that they are buying it from themselves.) He then fails to mention that Exelon sells power to other companies in other states where they don’t have the reverse auction gambit, cheaper than they are selling it to us here in Illinois—in fact, at no more than our neighbors to the north deliver it for. In other words, they have created what could be called a shell corporation to do business without scrutiny. The going rate of power among all companies here in the Midwest should dictate the price of electricity in Illinois, not some put-up job.

The representative says we don’t want to happen to us what happened in California. No, we don’t. Their legislators there were just more attentive to the needs of the people than ours. They stopped it. That’s why Ken Lay and all his cohorts were convicted and went to jail. That is what the people of Illinois want, not necessarily to send someone to jail, but they certainly don’t want to pay more for electricity than the states all around them. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan seems to be the only person in the state of Illinois who understands the needs and the wishes of the people. She has been pursuing a lawsuit against this nonsense right along. Perhaps that is why she will be the next governor. (Too bad she didn’t run this time.)

I suggest to the representative that he poll his residents. High power rates, especially when they are unnecessary, affect all the people of Illinois, from the richest Republican to the smallest homeowner or renter. Businesses make decisions about where to locate based on things like the price of electricity. It affects the economy as a whole, especially when it comes to disposable income. If you cannot see this, I suspect it is because of other issues. I await your disclosure to know.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the Dec. 20-26, 2006, issue

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