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Ill. Senate overrides Quinn veto of smart grid rate hike

By: Rafael Guerrero and Julie Wernau |

Rejecting Gov. Pat Quinn’s plea to not increase power rates to help improve some of the state’s electrical grid, the Illinois senate voted to override his veto of a bill that bulks up the revenue Commonwealth Edison will receive as it modernizes the electrical grid.

The senators voted 44-11-1 on the measure, topping the 36 votes needed to override Quinn’s veto of the measure this month.

Under current law, three-fifths of legislators in each chamber of the legislature must agree to override a veto from the governor. The original bill passed with more than 70 percent support in the House and Senate back in March.

In exchange for $2.6 billion in consumer rate hikes over 10 years, ComEd had pledged to digitize the electrical grid. The utility said that operational changes would ultimately save money and that in-home devices would give consumers more control over their electricity usage. New smart meters were to be installed throughout ComEd’s service territory of roughly 3.8 million customers. About 130,000 have been installed as a pilot project.

But when it came time for 2011 law to be implemented, ComEd and the Illinois Commerce Commission disagreed. ComEd appealed 12 technical matters worth about $100 million a year it. The dispute continues in court.

The legislation seeks to address three of those issues: whether to treat pensions as an asset or a liability; whether returns should be based on equipment in the ground at year-end or the average amount of equipment in the ground throughout the year; and the interest rate to be used for bringing into line the utility’s actual versus hypothetical costs.

The senate override comes less than three weeks after the Democratic governor vetoed the package. Quinn pointed at families and businesses as he wielded his veto stamp on the bill during a news conference in Chicago in early May.

The governor said families and businesses can’t afford a rate increase, and he expressed concern about a “very disturbing process” in which ComEd sought relief in the legislature after a disagreement with the ICC.

Improving the grid is important but, as Quinn said that day, “We cannot allow big utilities to take over and run roughshod over families and businesses.”

Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton told state senators that Quinn’s claim that the bill is an “unprecedented interference” in the ratemaking authority of the Illinois Commerce Commission is “simply not true.”

“Both the Senate and House found that the ICC through its orders misinterpreted its delegated authority under the Smart Grid Bill, and the ICC itself said corrective legislation was necessary,” Cullerton said.

According to ComEd, the average residential bill of $82 per month would increase by about 40 cents in 2014 and by about 80 cents in 2017 under this proposal.

ComEd has long argued this bill is needed to support its smart grid program, a modernization  it says would create jobs, reduce power outages and give consumers more say over their energy consumption.

The override bill moves to the House, where lawmakers supported it 86-28 in March, well above the required 71 votes needed to strike down veto.

ComEd could face opposition in the House. Sources in Springfield say a group of House Democrats is threatening to pull support for the veto override over the utility’s opposition to another bill aimed at repairing the state’s renewable portfolio standard.

The state is falling short of a mandate to have 25 percent of electricity flowing to homes and businesses by 2025 be from renewable source like wind and solar power because money being collected from customers by these other energy suppliers isn’t being used for green energy purchases.

Instead, the money is sitting in an untapped fund because of obscure language in state law.

That $15 million account is on track to balloon to nearly $135 million by the end of 2014, according to the Illinois Power Agency, the state agency tasked with spending the funds.

ComEd and its Chicago-based parent Exelon Corp. have said they oppose a bill sponsored by Sen. Michael Frerichs (D-Champaign) that would channel all money for renewable energy into a single utility-controlled account with the power agency buying all renewable energy on behalf of all Illinois electricity customers.

In a statement Teusday ComEd said: “These are two separate issues. The General Assembly has consistently supported the Smart Grid bill.”