To Heat Or Eat?
Chicago Consumers Protest Gas Rate Hike
January 10, 2012, Chicago—Facing a wave of protest signs, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) voted 5-0 Tuesday to grant rate hikes to Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas.
While CUB is still crunching the numbers, the ICC did approve a rate hike that is greater than the $60 million increase recommended by a state regulatory judge. The companies’ original request was a total of $134 million—about $125 for Peoples and about $9 million for North Shore.
Also on Tuesday, the ICC voted unanimously to give Ameren a rate hike. Again, although the final number was not immediately available, the ruling gave the company more than the $30 million increase recommended by a state regulatory judge. The company had originally requested about $51 million.
In public comments allowed before the ICC made its final vote in the Peoples case, protest signs such as “Freeze Rates, Not the Ratepayers,” shot up in the air. Recent college graduates, retirees, professors, and small-business owners rose to speak, to applause and hoots from the crowd.
“Giving Peoples Gas yet another rate increase will only deny more families safe heat for their homes or the ability to afford other things they need to survive,” said one protester, Alexandra Mazzoccoli, a Chicago woman moved to tears as she read a statement and grasped a sign in Spanish that read, “Food or heat? We need both!”
Loyola professor David Schweickart cited a Chicago Tribune report of 12,000 Peoples customers getting their gas shut off in September and October, and Pedro Garcia demanded that state regulators reject the increase and that Peoples stop shutoffs for poor consumers and work out payment arrangements with them.
Integrys Energy Group, the parent of Peoples and North Shore, saw an 80 percent increase in third-quarter profits in 2011, but Sharon Grant, a mother of five in Chicago, filled the room with her voice as she told the five ICC commissioners she’s having a hard time paying her gas bills. “You tell me what I’m supposed to do,” she said. “I don’t have a big income.”
Gloria Needlman, a retired teacher, called a potential Peoples Gas increase a “nightmare.”
“We can’t grow our kids to be contributing citizens if they’re cold as little children,” she said.
After the ICC amended the regulatory judge’s recommendation and voted, there was a hush in the crowd. But as they moved out of the hearing room and began to realize what happened, some protested the rate hike loudly, including Marissa Brown, who said she runs a small business out of her home. Earlier, Brown had told the ICC that she understands the need for a business to balance its budget, but “why is it balanced on the backs of the people who are suffering the most?”
The increases impact delivery charges—what customers pay to have natural gas delivered to their homes. Those charges, which take up roughly a third of the bill, are where the utility makes a profit. (See CUB's "Making Sense of Your Gas Bill" fact sheet for more information.)
CUB is planning to appeal the increases. You can help CUB fight these battles by contributing to our rate-hike defense fund.