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IL Lawmakers Debate Another Electric Rate Hike

PHOTO: AARP volunteer Dean Clough attended the ICC rate hike hearing. Photo credit: Jennifer Silverberg.
PHOTO: AARP volunteer Dean Clough attended the ICC rate hike hearing. Photo credit: Jennifer Silverberg.
March 20, 2013

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Electric bills could be going up again if legislation making its way through the Illinois House and Senate this week passes.

In 2011, state lawmakers passed a bill giving electric utilities automatic rate increases for the next 10 years to fund upgrades to the grid. However, the Illinois Commerce Commission ruled on a technicality that the increases were too high and ordered a temporary rate reduction. Commonwealth Edison is appealing that ruling in court and has asked the lawmakers to pass new rate-hike legislation.

Scott Musser, legislative director for AARP Illinois, sees it as a way to get around the regulatory process that's meant to protect consumers.

"We've got a regulatory process for a reason," he said. "These are monopoly companies, even with the so-called competition out there - that's for the electricity, that's not for the delivery. So you're always going to have to rely on ComEd or Ameren to deliver it to your house."

ComEd said the increase would amount to less than $1 on an $82 utility bill and is needed to get "smart grid" improvements on track. But Musser thinks it has more to do with company profit margins. He said the rate reduction only lasts about six months, and is tiny compared with the automatic rate hikes ComEd will get during the 10-year period.

AARP Illinois and the Citizens Utility Board are urging state lawmakers to slow down on these rate hikes, Musser said, and let the case make its way through the appellate court.

"At the end, after the courts decide, if Commonwealth Edison wants to come back to the General Assembly and tweak the law, I think that's different," he said. "But when you've got them now jumping the gun while this is still before the courts and then wanting this retroactively, I think that's just a bad public policy."

For consumers who think their bills already may be too high, the Citizens Utility Board offers a free online program to help reduce electricity use. The organization also offers clinics throughout the state to help people understand their utility bills. More information is online at citizensutilityboard.org and cubenergysaver.com.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL