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A Chicago heating-affordability crisis?

Mismanaged pipeline program

Last winter, Peoples customers paid about 80 percent more for service than Nicor Gas customers—and a big reason is the pipe program, which aims to replace 2,000 miles of aging gas mains.

A state-ordered 2015 audit uncovered rampant mismanagement. Since then, the projected price tag for the program has quadrupled to up to $11 billion, and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office estimated that gas bills could double over the next 20 years. Last year, Crain’s Chicago Business reported that the program could spark a “heating-affordability crisis,” and this year the paper wrote: “Get ready for much higher heating bills.”

“It’s a looming disaster,” Kolata told Crain’s.

While some of the work needs to be done, the program should not be a blank check for Peoples Gas. Since 2010, the ICC has granted Peoples four rate hikes totaling $250 million, and now the company plans to spend an unprecedented $300 million a year. “I can’t afford this,” one woman told CUB, after a month in which she paid $41 without using even one therm of natural gas.

But what’s been bad for customers is great for the corporation: WEC Energy Group, the parent of Peoples, raked in profits of $854 million in just the first nine months of 2018, and it recently announced it was rewarding stockholders with a dividend increase for the sixteenth consecutive year.

CUB and other consumer advocates have pleaded for stronger cost controls on the program, but the ICC says it doesn’t have the authority to rein in the program. So watchdogs are pushing the General Assembly to act.

Sign CUB’s petition telling the General Assembly to fix the pipeline-replacement program.