Wednesday, May 22, 2013

House makes override of Quinn's veto on electricity rates official

By Jamey Dunn

Lawmakers overturned a veto from Gov. Pat Quinn on a bill related to oversight of the so-called smart grid law.

In 2011, lawmakers passed a bill that gives Commonwealth Edison and Ameren automatic rate increases. In return, the utilities must make upgrades to the state’s electrical grid, including changes meant to make service more efficient for customers. Quinn vetoed the plan, but lawmakers overrode his veto.

The Illinois Commerce Commission, which is tasked with regulating the smart grid rollout, has since made a ruling about rates connected to the bill. Utilities didn’t like the ruling because they say it will cost them millions, and lawmakers say it was wrong and missed the intent of their law. So they approved Senate Bill 9, which supporters say clarifies the original language. It would also allow the utilities to collect rates they lost under the ICC ruling, plus interest, from customers retroactively.

Quinn vetoed SB 9. “I cannot support legislation that puts the profits of big electric utilities ahead of the families and businesses of Illinois,” he said in a prepared statement when he issued the veto. “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.”

But legislators who pushed for an override say Quinn has it all wrong. “All this bill says is that the Commerce Commission ought to follow the law that we originally passed. I know when the governor vetoed this bill he did it very emphatically. Some of you may have seen that on the news, and he said that the General Assembly should not get in the way of the Commerce Commission,” said Skokie Democratic Rep. Lou Lang, sponsor of SB 9. “But I have a different story to tell. The story is that the Commerce Commission does not make public policy in this state. The Illinois General Assembly makes public policy, and they ought to follow the policy we set.”

The House approved the override today, 71-41, with five members voting present. The Senate passed the bill on Tuesday.

The utilities said that without the change, they would have to delay implementing the grid upgrades. But now that they bill is law, they say that work will return to normal. “We are starting immediately to accelerate smart meter installation and other work to improve reliability, provide new ways to save energy and money, and serve as a shot in the arm to our state’s economy,” Anne Pramaggiore, president and chief executive officer of ComEd, said in a prepared statement.

Opponents say the override shows that the utilities will come to lawmakers when they do not like the decisions made by regulators. “I think that SB 9 is very telling that they don’t want the commission to be anything more than a rubber stamp,” said Scott Musser, a lobbyist with the AARP. He said that it seems that lawmakers are not willing to back the ICC in such conflicts. “They have now made the commission their punching bag. They’ve beaten them up pretty successfully.”


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