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Ameren, ComEd Steamrolling Auto Rate Hikes in Springfield

Right now, a bill sailing through the General Assembly would lock in yearly, automatic electric rate hikes for two more years–through 2019. And CUB says: Not so fast!

The increases, made possible by the General Assembly’s “smart grid law” in 2011, are to pay for new digital electric meters and other high-tech upgrades to Illinois’ power grid.

Although CUB sees the potential of these upgrades to prevent costly power outages and save consumers money, we opposed the 2011 bill because it opened the door to unfair rate hikes.

And we oppose the extension bill now because ComEd and Ameren haven’t put enough new digital meters in the ground to measure significant improvement. After frustrating delays, ComEd began an accelerated meter installation program this year, and Ameren just began putting in meters this past summer in Hillsboro.

“We’re generally supportive of smart grid,” CUB Executive Director David Kolata told Crain’s Chicago Business. “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.”

For decades electric delivery rates were set through 11-month cases that gave consumer advocates like CUB the opportunity to launch a comprehensive challenge of the utilities’ rate-hike plans. However, the law passed in 2011 gave Ameren and ComEd the right to set rates by a formula that sparks increases every January through 2017. The new bill would extend the formula rates through 2019.

CUB still battles the increases, and, in fact is challenging rate-hike requests of about $270 million and $206 million by ComEd and Ameren, respectively. However, we’re limited to what issues we can challenge in these cases.

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