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Officials Seek More Oversight Of ComEd With Smart-Grid Bill

Current version doesn't put enough pressure on utility company, critics say.

Lake Bluff Village Administrator Drew Irwin wants to make sure ComEd doesn't forget the smaller communities when it comes to power outages.

"We get very little attention,” Irwin said. “Small communities had the same problems. I'm glad to see ComEd will be taking a more community-oriented approach.”

A number of municipal officials testified about the difficulties their communities faced because of the outages after the June 21 and July 11 storms at Tuesday's hearing of the Illinois House Public Utilities Committee in Highland Park. 

, arranged the meeting in the northern suburbs after more than 1.2 million ComEd customers were left without power in the aftermath of storms June 21 and July 11. 

Longtime Highland Park City Manager  has seen these problems for more than 30 years. 

“I’ve been dealing with ComEd since 1977, and the issues are the same now as they were then,” Limardi said. He also complained city staff must handle complaints the utility fails to resolve. “My staff shouldn’t be doing ComEd’s work. They should be doing the work of the people of Highland Park.”

May also wants to see ComEd immediately improve poorly performing circuits that have been identified, rather than wait for a complete plan.

More Oversight, Fewer Returns

ComEd President and Chief Operating Officer Ann Pramaggiore said smart-grid legislation passed by the Legislature and now under a veto threat by Gov. Patrick Quinn will go a long way toward solving many of the problems that kept residents without power for days this summer.

Of the people sitting on the Illinois House Public Utilities Committee, May and state Rep. Robyn Gable, D-Evanston voted for the bill, while state Reps. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, and Sid Mathias, R-Buffalo Grove, opposed it. All want changes to force better performance.

 wants to start by severely limiting the potential return ComEd can achieve on its 10-year investment to improve reliability and storm restoration. The company also will install meters that automatically let it know if a customer is out of power. 

“Their return on equity is tied to treasuries, which are at a historic low,” Biss said. “Any reasonable economist will tell you treasuries are going to go up.”

According to Bankrate.com, most U.S. Treasury yields are hovering below 1 percent. 

This structure will give ComEd a potentially high return in even a mild economic recovery, according to Biss. 

“If rates don’t go up it will be very bad for our economy,” he said. “We can’t sustain these low rates.” 

Before  can support the bill, she wants to see more oversight by the Illinois Commerce Commission. The ICC regulates ComEd. While giving the utility performance standards, the law reduces the ICC’s ability to regulate. 

“The bill eviscerates the ability of the ICC to oversee ComEd,” Nekritz said. “They (ComEd) have to be subject to external pressure.” 

As written, the smart-grid legislation reduces ICC regulation and adds performance standards ComEd must meet regarding reliability and performance. According to Pramaggiore, that amount is in excess of $20 million a year. 

“That’s nothing for a company that earns billions,” Biss said. “It has to be painful to force performance." 

Concerns About Profits

Pramaggiore considers the standards imposed by the proposed bill unusual and more than adequate. She considers it a major concession made by her company to members of the Legislature

“You don’t see this model anywhere else in the United States. There are performance metrics we have to live up to,” Pramaggiore said. “This is a good model and we stand by it."

When Biss asked Pramaggiore her company’s current profit, she said she did not know.

Wilmette Village President Chris Canning asked the committee members to rescind the legislation and replace it with a law that would make ComEd more accountable. He was speaking both for his community and for the Northwest Municipal Conference, which he chairs.

“We need an inquiry that is driven by data,” Canning said. “If we don’t do something now we’re going to have another meeting 10 years from now.”

Louis G. Atsaves August 17, 2011 at 11:21 AM
Any politician who voted the ComEd smart grid which decreases regulatory oversight should be immediately voted out of office. It is a shame that the meeting was scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on a weekday when most voters work. It took ComEd 6 days to show and turn off electrical power when a neighbor's tree fell on a power line during the June storm. It took them 2 days to turn on power, then we watched and called and called and called while the tree slowly burned through the power line. The Lake Forest Fire Dept. came out 3 times and also called and called and called to no avail. ComEd's service is the worst in the country according to most studies. The smart grid will not improve service, only their profits. In our case, after watching the tree burn for 4 days (fortunately it was a live tree and not a dead one) in frustration and waiting for it to fall onto our garage, work crews FINALLY showed up on a Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. At 5:00 p.m. a supervisor called the crews and demanded that they return to the shop by 7:00 p.m. because they didn't want to pay any more overtime. I have one of the burnt logs in my garage now. The other two that the power line completely burned through could not be found in the mess they initially left in my yard when they cut down the tree and freed up the power line. Quinn should veto that bill. ComEd needs to upgrade their services and rehire all they laid off. And those who voted for the smart grid? Find yourselves a new job!
local August 17, 2011 at 01:45 PM
The smart grid allows ComEd to turn off or "cycle" off your power at will- They can force you to "save" energy. The smart grid will also allow surveillance of your power use, times and dates of occupancy, all data which ComEd can sell to outside companies. The smart grid is an invasion of privacy and takes control from the consumer!
Jim Powers August 17, 2011 at 09:24 PM
I hear your helplessness when it comes to one company seemingly holding all the cards. I'm glad at least the legislators want more put into the bill, but it seems strange, at least to me, to design a piece of legislation for one company.

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