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Why we need new gas infrastructure

Jimmy Ilippoulous worker with Peoples Gas uniLocal 18007 works utility’s gas mareplacement project. | Submitted photo

Jimmy Ilippoulous, a worker with Peoples Gas union Local 18007, works on the utility’s gas main replacement project. | Submitted photo

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Updated: May 30, 2013 5:27PM

The Illinois Commerce Commission plays a crucial role in setting utility rates. In spite of what your Tuesday editorial [“We Need ICC to Keep Lid on Utility Bills”] suggested, we at Peoples Gas want the Commission to continue in that role.

Indeed, when it comes to financing our Accelerated Main Replacement Program (AMRP), we would have been happy to let the ICC have its way. Working with the ICC, we had crafted a means of funding the replacement of Chicago’s aging gas mains, which in some cases are as much as 150 years old. We agreed to a charge on everyone’s gas bill to defray the cost of main replacement. But after the attorney general appealed the lCC’s decision, the appellate court ruled that the commission had overstepped its bounds. That is why our legislation became necessary. With the legislation, the ICC will continue to play an important role in our business. The legislation does not change the fact that the ICC will still review and approve our costs.

Chicago is an economic engine for the region and as a 21st century city, We simply cannot continue to operate on a 19th century natural gas infrastructure. The Natural Gas Modernization, Public Safety and Iobs Act will enable us to replace the pipelines and bring long-term cost savings and increased reliability to consumers. During the 10 years covered by the law, our $2.5 billion project is expected to pump an additional $3.7 billion into our state’s economy protecting more than 1,000 jobs. It will cut greenhouse emissions sharply — the equivalent of taking 19,000 cars off the road. And it will provide consumers with a safer, more reliable, and efficient system for generations to come.

Modernizing our system is the right thing to do. And now is the right time to do it, especially while natural gas supplies are abundant and prices are at historic lows.

Willard S. Evans Jr., president,

Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas

Update communications rules

The Sun Times editorial regarding the Illinois Commerce Commission contained information about the communications industry that is inaccurate and misleading to your readers. I would like to set the record straight.

The editorial’s contention that there is a “monopoly utility” with “no competition” in communications is simply wrong. It’s an argument as out of date as a rotary dial phone.

Actually, the communications industry is super competitive. Consumers know it and they love it.

Unlike companies in the energy industry, communications companies are not guaranteed customers. Today consumers enjoy the choice of numerous communications technologies from a multitude of communications providers, including VoIP, wireless, text messaging, real-time video conversations with FaceTime and Skype, YouTube from Google, iMessage from Apple, and social networks including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Consumers not only understand that the communications industry is evolving to an Internet network infrastructure, they are driving it. Customers are getting better service, fewer dropped calls and faster speeds. Consumers are enjoying expanded access. And cities and communities are enjoying the benefits of job creation and economic development, improved access to health care, public safety and education.

The Illinois Commerce Commission last September reported that more than 60 percent of Illinois residential customers did not take wireline service from their traditional landline phone company in 2011. The facts are undeniable and the communications world has changed forever.

As the state’s communications laws expire this year, communications rules should be updated to reflect how we are communicating today, and to attract more private-sector investment in broadband to provide these and future benefits to the people and communities in Illinois.

Matt Johnson, president,

Illinois Telecommunications Association

Smart grid law creates jobs

All of us have served as Commissioners of the Illinois Commerce Commission. We understand and have exercised the obligations of the ICC — particularly the protection of consumers.

It is because of this experience that we endorse the smart grid law passed by the Legislature in 2011 and embrace the changes it made to Illinois’ regulatory oversight of electric utilities. We believe these changes are necessary given the modern requirements of the electric system and will improve reliability, provide customers with more control and choice in their energy use, and create opportunities for cost savings.

The Smart Grid law also does important work for Illinois’ economy, as a modern electric grid is a critical component of our state’s economic infrastructure. The value of this investment and benefits to Illinois consumers far exceeds the cost, and is necessary for our state to stay competitive and meet the needs of our 21st century digital economy. Another positive feature of the new law is that it is creating thousands of critically needed Illinois jobs and new businesses through grid modernization work.

Just as Illinois’ electric grid needs to be modernized, so too did our regulatory model, given that this regulatory system was designed 100 years ago. It was intended to serve an economy that does not exist today and didn’t provide the flexibility to address the changing technology of the utility industry. This meant that Illinois had gone from leading to lagging behind other states in deployment of smart grid technology, hampering our state’s economic growth. After debating these issues for years at the ICC under the old model, we were not making progress. If Illinois is to keep up with the 48 other states in the U.S. that are deploying smart grid, we must make the investment and this new regulatory model is required to do so.

While your recent editorial [“We need ICC to keep a lid on utility bills,” March 26] questioned this policy’s consumer protections, the General Assembly safeguarded the interests of families and businesses and actually enhanced consumer protections, even with the changes the law established. The ICC retains significant authority to oversee rates, to determine if a utility’s investments were reasonable and prudent, and if not, to disallow costs.

The smart grid law also enhanced accountability for electric utilities in the form of performance standards. Utilities must meet these standards – including fewer and shorter power outages – in an annual determination by the ICC or pay financial penalties that result in rate credits to customers. In this way, the regulatory model provides consumer protections and a role for the ICC that it did not have before. There is no other model like it in the U.S. and a decade from now, Illinois will view this law’s passage as a wise decision.

Our state has taken positive steps toward reforming Illinois’ utility regulation to catch up with the times. Balanced, forward-thinking policies, such as the smart grid law, are exactly what our state needs to compete and grow in today’s economy.

Sherman J. Elliott,

Lula M. Ford,

Ruth K. Kretschmer,

Erin M. O’Connell-Diaz

Philip R. O’Connor,

former members of the Illinois Commerce Commission

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