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In 2019, CUB celebrates 35 years of fighting for consumers

Early CUB activists.

Remember how bad it was before the Citizens Utility Board (CUB)?

It was the spring of 1983, and Gov.  “Big Jim” Thompson was in a packed theater in southern Illinois pitching a tax increase—but people were more interested in what he would do about utility bills. What he said sparked applause from 200 Belleville-area residents.

“Let’s have a citizens utility board,” said Thompson, virtually assuring that the CUB Act, then before the General Assembly, would become law. He would sign it less than five months later, on Sept. 20, 1983.

It was the culmination of more than a year of hard work by consumers fed up with high utility bills, including 34-year-old activist Pat Quinn, who railed against “an unprecedented series of back-breaking” utility increases.

A young Pat Quinn, years before he became governor.

He led a statewide referendum movement in favor of creating a consumer watchdog group for utility customers. At the time, the idea was gaining popularity nationwide thanks to consumer advocates like Ralph Nader.

In Illinois, the headlines were dark those days. Facing criticism about cost over-runs, ComEd, which boosted profits by 35 percent in 1982, had a “continuing need for higher rates” largely fueled by power plant construction, the Chicago Tribune reported. The next summer, one Sunday front page warned: “Utility rates expected to double in 3 years.” There was talk of “a utility price disaster.”

No wonder frustration was palpable. “Send the flunky home!” someone shouted as a utility official tried to speak at one community meeting.

In 1984, State Comptroller Roland Burris (left) and Gov. James Thompson (center) presented CUB with a $100,000 state start-up loan. CUB Board President Howard Learner and Executive Director Susan Stewart accepted the check. We paid the loan back, with interest.

The birth of CUB came after advisory referendums were placed on the ballots of communities throughout

Illinois, thanks to the petition efforts of citizens. In November 1982, Chicago voted 4-1 in favor of a CUB, and in April 111 Illinois communities followed suit—sometimes by a pro-CUB margin of 14-1.

Such “whopping margins give us a lot of momentum to go down to the legislature,” Quinn said at the time.

He was right: By late May 1983 the House and Senate, which had observed the results of the advisory referendums, had both passed the CUB Act, setting the stage for Thompson’s signing.

CUB opened its doors in 1984. That year, the watchdog received a $100,000 state start-up loan, which the group paid back with, interest within two years.

The rest is history. Quinn, of course, went on to serve as governor and CUB went on to help save consumers more than $20 billion.

35 Years of Victories

1984: CUB opens its doors. The CUB Act became state law in 1983, giving the nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog a clear mission: to advocate for the rights of utility customers across the state. 

1985: CUB wins landmark reforms, requiring state regulators to conduct audits of plant construction costs and to disallow imprudent spending. 

1987: CUB helps block ComEd rate deal, saving consumers $1.3 billion. First time the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) rejected outright a ComEd rate hike.

1988: Illinois Power rate hike fight saves about $3 billion.

1993: Multiple ComEd rate cases settle for a $1.34 billion refund and $339 million rate cut, the largest refund ever recorded by a utility.

1994: Won five-year rate cut for SBC (now AT&T) customers, for total savings of $465 million.

1997: CUB negotiated a record rate decrease under new electric deregulation law, for a $6.2 billion customer benefit.

2002: $224 million in phone credits for Ameritech (now AT&T) customers. Largest phone credit in Illinois history.

2003: State legislation defeated, saving ComEd- Illinois Power customers from $2 billion in electric rate hikes. 

2006: CUB’s David Kolata helps uncover illegal profit sharing deal between affiliates of Peoples Gas and Enron Corp., resulting in a record $100 million gas refund.

2007: CUB helps launch the “Rate-Hike Rebellion” after the Ameren and ComEd “auction” power-pricing plan caused bills to skyrocket. Legislators eventually ordered $1 billion in refunds and created the Illinois Power Agency, charged with securing the lowest prices possible for consumers.

2007: Legislation creates Renewable Portfolio Standard, Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, saves estimated $2 billion.

2009-2011: Illinois Power Agency procurement savings total $1.6 billion.

2013: CUB helps win a $72 million refund for Nicor Gas customers.

2016: Future Energy Jobs Act is passed, improving energy efficiency standards and expected to spark billions of dollars in lower utility bills.

2018: CUB takes thousands of consumer calls, staffs 500+ events, and helps save consumers $125 million. 

Total Savings: $20 billion and counting