And they’re off! The General Assembly is at the beginning of the spring session. Bills are being introduced, read, and debated. Here’s a summary of what we’re working on this year.
Fighting to protect gas customers. It is clear to see when you open your gas bill that something is way off. That something is overly aggressive utility spending that has rapidly increased utility delivery rates (the portion of the bill utilities profit from).
Natural gas prices have risen too. This is exacerbating affordability problems. To hear the utilities tell it, low natural gas prices will save the day—and mask the great times they and their shareholders are having at our expense.
CUB isn’t so sure it’s a good assumption that natural gas prices will be low in the long-run. Demand for natural gas has increased as more of it is used to generate electricity, and the gas industry is building liquid natural gas facilities as quickly as they can to export gas. If history teaches us anything about gas prices it’s that they go up and down. And when they are low, the industry is doing all they can to make sure they don’t stay that way for long.
Learn about the legislation (House Bill 3941, Senate Bill 570) we’re fighting for in Springfield. Thank you for all of your messages to legislators on this issue. Your voice is key.
Fighting for water customers. Last year, Illinois American Water filed legislation that would have allowed them to try and place charges on your bill for services you aren’t even taking from the utility company. Luckily, CUB was there to testify against that legislation. This year the company is back with two bills, and we oppose both. The first would insert a review by a state agency before a municipality and its residents could file for eminent domain to take their system back from private utility companies. The second would allow private water utilities to file for “alternative regulation” programs at the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC). CUB is opposed to that one too, as it has been our experience that private monopolies want “alternative regulation” for things they want to make money on but aren’t under traditional regulation.
Also, we’re continuing our campaign to give consumers a say on water privatization. Most Illinoisans are customers of municipal water systems, but a growing problem is two major private companies—American Water and Aqua Illinois—crisscrossing the state to offer top dollar for, what are in most cases, fully depreciated water and wastewater systems. The corporations have been helped by a state law (legislation CUB opposed) that allows them to pass the cost of the purchases—$253 million and counting—onto their customers.
CUB is trying to bring more transparency to the process by fighting for legislation (House Bill 4691) that would require municipalities to hold a referendum before they are allowed to sell a public water system to a private company.
Fighting for broadband customers. CUB continues to push for legislation (Senate Bill 1557) to get a “check box” on all broadband bills to allow consumers to voluntarily donate to programs to help the less fortunate connect to or stay connected to broadband service. Carriers don’t want the “administrative burden” it appears, probably too busy counting all THEIR money. But, landline phone companies put the “check box” on their bills for years, and at its height that program was helping 55,000 people a year connect to a phone line. Time to continue and improve upon a program we know works.
Take care of yourselves and until next time, thanks for all your support.