Updated: June 13, 2013 5:50PM
A special circuit in Springfield works this way: Power companies give money to legislators, who then vote to give money to power companies. It’s not a system designed to give power company customers the best deal on rates.
According to data compiled by the Better Government Association, ComEd, the Downstate power utility Ameren, their affiliates and executives made at least $1.3 million in campaign contributions to members of the General Assembly, candidates for those offices, statewide office holders and state party organizations from Jan. 1, 2012, to March 21, 2013.
Then, the Legislature voted to give ComEd a hefty rate hike.
This resembles the pattern of two years ago. Back then, utilities gave $1.5 million before the Legislature approved new formula rate increases to pay for upgrading and modernizing the power distribution system with a so-called “smart grid.”
In a response to the BGA, ComEd and its parent company, Exelon, said they “support candidates from both parties who they believe will support sound energy policies in the state.” And ComEd says the most recent bill simply clarifies language that was misinterpreted by the Illinois Commerce Commission, which last December granted ComEd a smaller rate increase than the company wanted. The utility also points out that power generation costs — which ComEd simply passes on to ratepayers — are dropping so much that they will more than offset the increase in ComEd’s part of the bill through the end of the year.
But Gov. Pat Quinn didn’t see it that way. On March 5, he vetoed the most recent bill, saying, “We cannot allow big utilities to force automatic rate hikes on the people of Illinois by going around oversight authorities each and every time they do not get the decision they want.”
Quinn’s veto doesn’t look like it will hold up. The legislation cleared both houses of the General Assembly with veto-proof majorities, and House sponsor Lou Lang (D-Skokie) says he expects an override.
ComEd spokesman Fidel Marquez Jr. says customers will be happy if that happens, because it will allow ComEd to start building the smart grid, which will give customers more reliable service and more control over their energy use.
But it won’t stop that cash from flowing back and forth in Springfield. Too bad there’s no off-switch for that.