Legislation introduced by state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, would extend the date by which smart grid formula rates are to expire from 2017 to 2019. The bill is a major priority of Ameren Illinois, the electric utility for most of downstate Illinois.
Utilities in Illinois are pressing state lawmakers for an immediate two-year extension of the smart grid law that permits them to hike electricity delivery rates annually via a formula.
Illinois Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, who chairs the House Public Utilities Committee, has introduced legislation that would extend the date by which formula rates are to expire from 2017 to 2019. The bill is a major priority of Ameren Illinois, the electric utility for most of downstate Illinois.
Commonwealth Edison Co. supports it, too, as do unions led by the Illinois AFL-CIO.
The bill is expected to see action in Phelps’ committee during the first week of the fall veto session, which begins Nov. 19. Ameren is hoping for swift action before the 2015 regular legislative session begins in January.
In northern Illinois, the law has allowed ComEd to finance $2.6 billion of grid upgrades, including the installation of smart meters in 3.8 million homes and businesses. ComEd’s program is well under way, while Ameren’s took longer to get started.
When the Legislature passed the law over Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto in 2011, it authorized 10 years of rate hikes with an automatic sunset of the statute in 2017 absent legislative approval. That was meant to allow lawmakers to assess whether utility-promised benefits were actually occurring before the companies could continue hiking rates.
The utilities insist those benefits already are apparent.
“We are supportive of continuing the law so we can have the certainty we need to plan ahead and continue making the infrastructure upgrades that are delivering jobs and increased reliability for our customers,” Ameren said in a statement.
Ameren’s push is curious given that the General Assembly is expected next year to take up wide-ranging energy legislation to address ComEd parent Exelon Corp.’s threat to close up to three money-losing nuclear plants if the state doesn’t provide financial assistance. Other energy-related priorities, like environmental groups’ desire to reform the state’s clean energy law, are expected to be considered then.
In addition, some say the jury still is out on the success of the smart grid program.
“We’re generally supportive of smart grid,” said David Kolata, executive director of consumer advocate Citizens Utility Board. “We think if the law is implemented correctly it will bring benefits. We don’t have enough evidence that it’s working as well as it can ... We think it’s too soon to do something like this.”
In a statement, ComEd referred to the bill as a “technical amendment” filed by Ameren that would help the downstate utility finance its grid improvements.
“The smart grid program has brought tremendous benefits, and its completion should be realized,” ComEd said.
This article is by Steve Daniels of Crain’s Chicago Business.