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Senate panel OKs ComEd rate boost — over complaints of ‘corporate greed’

Updated: March 15, 2013 1:51PM

SPRINGFIELD — A Senate panel on Wednesday unanimously passed legislation pushed by Commonwealth Edison to boost utility rates by $70 million annually despite consumer complaints the push amounts to “corporate greed.”

The bill, sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), flew out of the Senate’s Executive Committee by a 14-0 vote and is positioned for a full Senate vote.

ComEd said its customers would not see a rate increase until 2014, with the average residential utility bill growing then by about 40 cents per month and increasing to 80 cents a month by 2017.

The fast-tracked legislation would restore funding to ComEd and Ameren Illinois that was lost when the Illinois Commerce Commission imposed rate cuts on the utilities last May and again in October.

Cullerton said the decision by the ICC to cut rates was a misinterpretation of smart-grid legislation passed in 2011 to subsidize a $2.6 billion ComEd upgrade of its electric grid over the next decade.

“The ICC is the one who gave us language to correct the original legislation,” Cullerton said. “The ICC, all of them, gave written suggestions as to how the statute that they interpreted could be corrected.”

In its rulings, the ICC denied ComEd as much as $100 million in rate hikes, prompting a challenge by the utility in the state appellate court. Cullerton’s bill would only address between $65 million and $70 million sought by ComEd, the utility said.

ComEd president and CEO Anne Pramaggiore said the utility needs the funding to carry out programs focused on “improving reliability by 20 percent, adding 2,000 jobs to the Illinois economy and creating other savings for customers.”

“The smart grid bill was designed to improve reliability, create operational savings for our customers and frankly create jobs.”

Funding from that legislation has allowed ComEd to install more than 470 “smart switches,” which have helped customers avoid 82,000 interruptions in the last year and save them an estimated $100 million in outage-related costs, Pramaggiore said.

Scott Musser, associate state director for the American Association of Retired Persons Illinois, was the lone opponent at the committee hearing.

For Musser, the bill signifies “another bite of the apple by the utility companies” and a source of revenue for ComEd parent company, Exelon, which just cut its dividends by 41 percent.

“So we think the real issue here isn’t about smart grid, it’s not about smart meters,” he said. “The only one that wants to delay the implementation of smart meters is Commonwealth Edison themselves. Instead of moving forward with what is being said about infrastructure improvements, I think what we’re really looking at is a way to generate more profits … retroactively and with interest. And Illinois consumers pick up the tab for it.”

Musser described the legislation as “just another way to get after some corporate greed.”

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