Gov. Quinn Vetoes Electric Rate Hike Measure
Gov. Pat Quinn has rejected a plan to increase ComEd's and Ameren's electric rates by up to $70 million, a move backers say would help get so-called Smart Grid technology back on track.
The Chicago Democrat vetoed the plan Sunday saying the bill would have undermined electric utility oversight and force automatic rate increases on the public.
“I cannot support legislation that puts the profits of big electric utilities ahead of the families and businesses of Illinois,” Governor Quinn said, in a press release. “A strong economy that creates jobs requires stable energy costs, but this bill sends Illinois in the wrong direction. 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 said with the $70 million, along with other rate increases the utilities are seeking, the average consumer would see an increase of $5-$6 a month.
ComEd touted the bill as a way to clarify language on 2011 legislation that let power companies raise rates to fund a high-tech system meant to help people conserve energy.
The Illinois Commerce Commission filed a lawsuit against ComEd over the plan's implementation.
The bill was meant to clarify issues in the suit, and required ComEd speed up its installation of smart meters.
Lawmakers could override Quinn's veto.
Illinois lawmakers have approved major changes to the state's electricity system over Gov. Pat Quinn's veto.
Both the House and Senate voted to override the governor Wednesday.
They rejected Quinn's argument that the legislation guarantees unfair profits to power companies and seriously weakens the oversight power of state regulators.
The Senate voted 36-19 to override. Moments later, the House did the same on a 74-42 vote.
The legislation lets ComEd and Ameren raise rates to pay for improving electrical systems, including the creation of a high-tech "smart grid.''
Supporters say it will create jobs and help customers conserve energy. Critics call it a sweetheart deal for power companies.
The Illinois House has followed the Senate's lead and approved changes to give new life to electricity legislation that Gov. Pat Quinn opposes.
The House voted 91-24 Wednesday on the issue referred to at the state Capitol as "Smart Grid."
The Democratic governor opposes a plan allowing power companies to raise rates for system improvements like the high-tech grid. Critics say it would generate unfair profits and weaken state regulators.
Supporters say the new measure makes changes to address some complaints like the issue of power-company profits. They hope the adjustments will lure enough votes to override Quinn's veto of the original plan.
In East Central Illinois, five of seven representatives voted for the measure: Jason Barickman (R-Champaign), Dan Brady (R-Bloomington), Chad Hays (R-Catlin), Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana), and Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet). House members Adam Brown (R-Decatur) and Bill Mitchell (R-Forsyth) voted against it.
The Illinois Senate has approved changes intended to help revive electricity legislation vetoed by the governor.
The changes passed 37-20 Tuesday, despite opposition from Gov. Pat Quinn, who earlier in the day said he will work with the attorney general, AARP and other groups to block the legislation.
"I think that veto should be sustained by members of the General Assembly," said Quinn. "And everybody goes back to the drawing board and comes up with a comprehensive energy policy that is not harmful to our consumers and businesses in Illinois or our governments."
At issue is a plan to let power companies raise rates to pay for infrastructure improvements, including high-tech changes called "Smart Grid.'' Critics say the plan guarantees unfair profits and weakens state regulators.
Now supporters are trying to pass a "trailer bill'' that addresses some complaints, such as the size of profits. The idea is that if these changes are approved, a few additional lawmakers may be willing to override Quinn's veto of the underlying plan.
The override would succeed in the Senate if it gets support from everyone who voted for the trailer bill Tuesday.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Legislation to raise electric rates to help pay to modernize Illinois' power grid is on its way to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn, despite his repeated pledges to veto it.
The energy bill would raise electric rates as part of a $3 billion, 10-year plan to give Commonwealth Edison and Ameren money for basic infrastructure and a modern Smart Grid.
The bill would allow a 2.5 percent annual rate increases for the first three years. ComEd bills are projected to climb about $36 a year, while Ameren customers would pay about $34 more by the project's 10th year.
It's estimated consumers might save $7 to $10 per month by using smart meters.
Com Ed claims the Smart Grid technology will allow consumers to monitor and reduce energy usage - and will help the company respond more effectively to power outages. Com Ed serves approximately 3.8 million customers in northern Illinois.
Com Ed calls the measure "the most comprehensive electric utility-based job creation and capital investment program in generations," though Quinn claims it places too big of a burden on consumers. However, critics say the legislation guarantees ComEd and Ameren higher profits on the backs of consumers.
Quinn's "anti" stance caused supporters to put the measure on a type of legislative hold. The hope was they could use the extra time to win over the governor and other critics, including the AARP and the Citizens Utility Board.
The proposal's House sponsor, State Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park), said that it didn't work. But he said the storms that knocked out power for days in suburban Chicago early this summer prove why the power grid needs to get "smart."
"There's a chance that some of these things, through redirecting the power source and just the knowledge of where it's at and how many people are affected by each individual one, that we could have used that information in order to get some of these people back on line quicker," McCarthy said.
McCarthy said even though there is still opposition, he wanted the measure to get to the governor's desk so Quinn would have to act on it before October's veto session.
Earlier this year, Quinn and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a joint statement urging the Illinois Senate to reject the measure before it became law.
"While Commonwealth Edison and Ameren talk about investment in Smart Grid, Senate Bill 1652 is clearly not just about investing in this technology," wrote Quinn and Madigan at the time. "This legislation locks in guaranteed, significant annual profits for the utility companies without real oversight by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC)."
According to the Governor's office, ComEd rates would increase by approximately $180 million - or 9 percent -- every year for 10 years.
ComEd continued Monday to call on Quinn to sign the bill.
"Since its introduction last winter, the bill has undergone significant revisions to address concerns raised by the governor and multiple stakeholders. It is clear that the benefits provided by the bill greatly exceed its costs and allow Illinois the opportunity to invest in much-needed infrastructure improvements," the company said in a statement.
The measure's sponsors predicted they could find enough votes to override Quinn if he follows through with his threat to veto the measure. McCarthy said if it is needed, he will introduce a follow-up measure to appease those concerns. He said that could include requiring the utilities to set aside money to help low-income customers afford their electric bills, or a lower return on equity.