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Governor pushes for better accountability of gas utilities (we agree!)

Photo by Grant Hutchinson / Flickr (Click the image to see the original.)

Governor J.B. Pritzker recently wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times calling on gas utilities to be made more accountable to consumers and state regulators. The op-ed comes in the wake of news that gas utilities are pushing for a record $887 million in rate hikes. 

CUB and other consumer advocates believe the current natural gas situation in Illinois is unsustainable financially and environmentally and calls for legislative action. “The cost to consumers will continue to rise if we leave unchecked the gas utilities’ desire to charge consumers an ever increasing amount for expansion of their natural gas infrastructure,” Gov. Pritzker wrote. 

“It’s unfair and costly to consumers to allow gas companies to get away with not providing basic transparency and safety information to consumers and regulators,” added the Governor. “During this legislative session we need to adopt a number of measures that will protect gas customers.”

Here are some of the reforms Gov. Pritzker listed: 

  • An audit of the gas distribution infrastructure, so we know how our money has been spent in the last decade;
  • Gas distribution planning, so the ICC can better rule on which expenses are necessary;
  • Safety standards for gas pipes and distribution, so we can accurately determine what must be replaced and we don’t end up replacing infrastructure unnecessarily.
  • Require utilities to offer lower rates for low-income customers, so they can get additional relief;
  • Allow the ICC to require gas companies to maximize federal funds, so we can minimize the burden on Illinois ratepayers;
  • Have performance-based regulations for gas utilities, as we have for the electric utilities, so we can ensure the gas companies’ profits are as promised in the rate-making process;
  • Pay for the system using volumetric rates, not customer charges — so those who use more gas pay more (CUB note: This is a good argument for the value of efficiency.);
  • Initiate new protections against shut-offs and additional payment plan mechanisms.

Groups that advocate for gas customers welcomed the news. Earlier this year, CUB released a joint statement with the City of Chicago and the Illinois Attorney General’s office calling on legislators to develop strong policy to help Illinois consumers transition to cleaner and more affordable energy sources in response to the rate hikes. The statement reads

“For years, the City, the Attorney General’s office, and consumer advocates have shared a deep concern about Peoples Gas’ poorly managed System Modernization Program (SMP). Specifically, the infrastructure program impacts natural gas affordability among Chicago consumers — as natural gas supply prices have already been at painfully high levels for about two years. Peoples Gas’ rate hike is grim news for Chicago consumers who have suffered for years under the expensive SMP program and who now face a historically expensive winter heating season.” 

In 2021, Illinois made history with the Climate and Equitable Job Act, state legislation that brought reforms to the electricity market. Now the time has come for similar reforms to the gas industry. 

Want to take action? 

  1. Join our Say No to Peoples Gas protest 11 am on Monday March 27 at the Aon Center in downtown Chicago: RSVP here
  2. File a public comment with the Illinois Commerce Commission
  3. Sign our petitions