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CUB to would-be Peoples Gas parent: Is that all you got?

On the pages of the Chicago Tribune this week, CUB gave a message to the would-be parent of Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas: Do more for Chicago-area gas customers!

On Thursday, the watchdog group was asked to react to some pro-consumer promises Wisconsin Energy made in its filing asking state regulators to approve its proposed purchase of Integrys Energy Group, the parent company of the Chicago-area gas utilities. CUB Executive Director David Kolata told the Tribune: “We think it’s a step in the right direction, but certainly more needs to be done.”

The Mayor’s office agrees: “Chicago ratepayers deserve more significant relief and we’ll be working with Wisconsin Energy to find ways to further reduce energy costs,” a spokeswoman said.

Back in June, when the $9.1 billion deal was announced, CUB noted it was a bit odd that WE hadn’t made any upfront pro-consumer concessions–especially since the Milwaukee-based energy company planned to pack up the Integrys corporate headquarters and move out of Chicago. Other mergers involving local energy companies have involved rate freezes and rebates, but not so in this case.

WE responded to such criticism in its filing on Wednesday, making several promises upon state regulatory approval of the acquisition, including:

*Freezing rates for two years.

*Keeping at least 1,953 full-time jobs in Illinois for at least two years. (That’s about what Integrys employs now.)

*Honoring existing labor agreements.

*Working with local groups to improve energy efficiency programs.

At first look, the rate freeze sounds great. But the devil, as always, is in the details. Get this: It turns out the two-year freeze does not include the current $136 million rate-hike request from Peoples/North Shore. Keep in mind that this year the companies have charged the highest gas supply rates in the state. Plus, since 2008, both have received about $250 million in rate hikes to deliver the gas to our homes.

Given the Chicago utilities’ rate-hike happy track record, it really does beg the question of Wisconsin Energy: Is that all you got?