ComEd, Ameren hope tweaks to Smart Grid enough to override veto, opponents not satisfied with changes

By Andrew Thomason
Illinois Statehouse News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Lawmakers are trying to appease opponents of a measure that would allow Illinois’ two largest utility companies to upgrade their infrastructure through automatic rate hikes by tweaking the legislation.

Opponents say the efforts, so far, fall short.

State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, rolled out a measure on the eve of the Legislature’s fall veto session that would modify the $3.2 billion, decade-long, infrastructure upgrade plan Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed a month earlier.

Harmon’s legislation forces Commonwealth Edison Co., which serves residents in northern Illinois, to divert $200 million from upgrading the infrastructure to “storm hardening” current infrastructure in its territory. That change comes after a series of power outages this summer enraged customers.

Additionally, the 2,450 full-time jobs Commonwealth Edison and Ameren Corp., which serves southern Illinois, promised to create under the original legislation must be created by the upgraded infrastructure. If the jobs were planned before the legislation was crafted, they do not count toward that figure.

The companies will be charged $6,000 for every job they fall short of hitting the 2,450-job mark under Harmon’s plan. That is double the $3,000 fine in the original legislation.

Both Commonwealth Edison, or ComEd, and Ameren would have to create a $60-million fund to help low-income seniors and disabled veterans pay their power bills.

That sweetener isn’t enough to get AARP’s support.

We don’t think … it addresses the fundamental problems. We question the need to put guaranteed rate increases and profits for a monopoly utility company in state law,” Scott Musser, associate state director for AARP Illinois, said.

For the next decade, customers in their monthly electrical bills would pay about $3 more with ComEd and about $3.40 more with Ameren.

Paying a few dollars more a month is what it takes to bring Illinois’ utility infrastructure into the age of the iPad and laptop computer, state Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, said.

Everything is going to cost. Nothing is free. Do we wish we could do it for free? We wish we could do everything for free,” Link said.

Proponents of the legislation are hoping the tweaks Harmon unveiled Monday, Oct. 24, are enough to generate enough votes in the Legislature to override Quinn’s veto. The original measure passed through the General Assembly with votes of 67-47 in the House and 31-24 in the Senate. If bill proponents want to override Quinn’s veto, they need 71 votes in the House and 36 votes in the Senate.

The state Senate Executive Committee passed Harmon’s proposal by a vote of 14-1.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan joined Quinn when the governor vetoed the original legislation, and she continues to be critical of the legislation — changes or not.

Madigan said in a written statement after Monday’s committee hearing: “Just like they tried to muscle this legislation through the spring session, ComEd and Ameren are at it again. … If ComEd and Ameren’s proposal were actually a ‘smart’ deal for consumers, it would hold its own rather than be rushed through the process without public input.”

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