By: Julie Wernau |
Commonwealth Edison should fork over $182 million to its 3.8 million customers for smart meters it promised to install but didn’t, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court.
The complaint, which seeks class action status, accuses ComEd of willfully violating an Illinois Commerce Commission’s order last June that directed the utility to begin its smart meter rollout in 2012 on Chicago’s south and west sides, where more than 500,000 smart meters were to be in place by the end of this year.
Instead, ComEd sued the state regulator for cutting funding it expected to receive for the program and said it will not be able to deliver the devices until 2015.
In ComEd’s testimony before the ICC, the utility has said that the delay is expected to cost customers an extra $209 million.
“ComEd has pulled off the biggest bait-and-switch in Illinois history,” said Chicago lawyer Paul G. Neilan who brought the suit. He said ComEd sold the legislation on the benefits of smart meters, and customers have already started paying for them. “No one will so much as see a smart meter until 2015.”
Neilan said that a provision in the legislation on the governor’s desk attempts to absolve ComEd of potential violations in delaying the smart meter rollout. Neilan said the utility and its parent company, Chicago-based Exelon Corp. contributed more than $192,000 in campaign contributions since 2010 to legislative sponsors of the bill.
In a statement, ComEd said: “The lawsuit is baseless and completely without merit. ComEd remains committed to completing the 10-year Smart Grid program, including the installation of nearly 4 million smart meters throughout our service territory. We are in compliance with the ruling of the Illinois Commerce Commission that governs smart meter deployment, which ordered full deployment of smart meters in 2015 and also required ComEd to submit a proposal for faster deployment. Senate Bill 9 provides the path to accelerated deployment of smart meters.We continue to work with the Commerce Commission to ensure transparency as we modernize the electric system and give customers more control over energy consumption and costs.”
In December, the ICC approved the delay but told ComEd the utility had given it no choice but to alter the timeline since the deadline to begin installing the meters had already passed. “Commonwealth Edison Company’s conduct constitutes non-compliance with the Commission’s Order,” the ICC wrote.
In selling the legislature on a new formula-based rate system approved in October 2011 that would give it faster and more frequent returns on its investments, ComEd said digital meters in homes would provide about $1.3 billion in benefits to consumers.
But in October 2012, when the ICC cut the funding ComEd expected to receive for its massive $2.6 billion plan to modernize the electrical grid, the utility fought back. It took its battle with the ICC to court and to the legislature in an attempt to bring back $100 million per year in funding.
The ComEd announced that without that funding it would delay its plan to install four million smart meters throughout its service territory, consumer-saving devices that it said would eliminate costs associated with human meter readers, electricity theft and empty homes that continue to consume electricity.
ComEd said that because of the ICC’s decision, $182 million in savings expected from those efficiencies wouldn’t be passed on to consumers, which ultimately affects rates.
If smart meters were installed throughout its territory, ComEd has said it would have helped it to more quickly restore power to hundreds of thousands of people during storms last year. The outages were so bad that a consortium of suburbs demanded ComEd be required to provide better service as part of grid overhaul legislation.
The suit also seeks damages from the utility.