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ComEd customers get $38 million refund this month–not enough

This month, ComEd customers are getting their small share of a $38 million refund tied to the utility’s corruption scandal.

March/April ComEd bills should have the following message in the “UPDATES” section: This month’s bill includes a one-time credit designated as “Deferred Prosecution Agreement” in accordance with the Illinois Commerce Commission’s resolution of its investigation. 

The roughly one penny per kilowatt-hour refund, which was approved by the ICC last August, amounts to a total of $38 million. It’s supposed to average out to a one-time $5 refund, but a review of bills from CUB staffers shows that it could be much smaller. For one staffer, for example, it was $1.61. For another it was $7.86. Regardless, consumer advocates say it’s not enough.

Last year, after the ICC ruling, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, the City of Chicago and CUB filed a petition for rehearing, pushing for a higher refund. 

“A $38 million refund is not enough,” CUB Executive Director David Kolata said in a news release. “Customers deserve better from ComEd, in the wake of Illinois’ most significant utility scandal ever. We will continue to work for a bigger refund, and to hold ComEd accountable.”

In July 2020, ComEd was fined $200 million by federal authorities, after admitting to a bribery scheme to pass legislation in 2011 that implemented a “formula rate” system. That rate-setting system left electric customers vulnerable to hundreds of millions of dollars in rate hikes over the last decade. (Note: In 2013, ComEd went back to the General Assembly to adjust the formula rate because the utility did not approve of how the ICC was interpreting the law. CUB opposed the 2013 bill for the same reasons it opposed the 2011 law.)

The Climate & Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA), which passed in September of 2021, called for the ICC investigation into a refund, and it replaced the unfair formula rate system. (A big part of CUB’s job will be defending consumer interests under the new rate-setting system.)

The ICC refund probe was narrow in scope, only focusing on direct costs—not damage done to consumers by paying higher electric rates. That’s why CUB intervened in a federal class action lawsuit in October of 2020, alleging that ComEd enriched itself “at the expense of Illinois utility customers,” and a similar state class action. Those cases could have resulted in a much bigger refund–but, unfortunately, judges dismissed both lawsuits in 2021. CUB will continue to look for opportunities to hold ComEd accountable.