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Capitol Report: CUB’s 2024 legislative agenda to lower utility bills

Each year CUB works at the State Capitol on a broad range of issues related to our core mission of saving consumers money on their utility bills.

“It’s not easy fighting for consumer interests against the big utilities in Springfield, but I know you’ve got my back,” said Bryan McDaniel, CUB’s Director of Governmental Affairs. “We’re on the lookout to oppose legislation that would advance the utilities’ agenda and increase our costs. And we’re also working to support proposed pieces of legislation that are common-sense, pro-consumer solutions. This year, we’ll need help from CUB supporters to build awareness among Illinois legislators. Be prepared to take action in the weeks to come. ”

CUB’s priorities for the 2024 Illinois General Assembly session include the following. (At the end, we also update you on the “Right of First Refusal” legislation we oppose.)

Utility Affordability Act

Bill Number: Senate Bill 2885/House Bill 5061
Sponsor: Sen. Suzy Glowiak Hilton and Rep. Theresa Mah  
What it does: Current Illinois law allows utilities to recover certain expenses from their customers that consumer advocates have long argued should be paid for by shareholders. Under the Utility Affordability Act, investor-owned electric, gas and water utilities in Illinois would be prohibited from charging customers for the following expenses:

  • Utility dues for memberships in trade associations that push the companies’ agenda.
  • Work devoted to political issues campaigns, such as referendums.
  • Goodwill advertising that enhances the utility image and benefits shareholders.
  • Charitable donations made by utilities on behalf of ratepayers.
  • Insurance protection for shareholders.
  • Lawyer and expert witness costs when utilities push for rate hikes before the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC). Typically, such legal expenses take up the largest chunk of these recoverable costs.

CUB estimates the Illinois legislation could, for the average year, save ratepayers across Illinois more than $50 million, based on documents the utilities filed with their most recent rate cases.

What you can do: Send a message to your legislators in favor of the Utility Affordability Act.  

More on this bill: The Utility Affordability Act is the latest reform measure in the country designed to bar utilities from burdening customers with potentially tens of millions of dollars in expenses for self-serving purposes to increase their political power and advance their agendas. Such self-serving spending should instead be covered by the companies’ shareholders. Three other states have passed similar reform legislation over the past year: Connecticut, Colorado and Maine. Read:

The joint news release by CUB and AARP Illinois. 

The Capitol News Illinois article about the legislation. 

The Chicago Sun-Times editorial about the legislation:  “The Legislature has a chance to inject some common sense into utility bills. It should do so.”

Lawmakers across the U.S. seek to curb utility spending on politics, ads and more extras

Water Affordability & Accountability

Bill Number: House Bill 5157
Sponsor: Rep. Nabeela Syed
What it does: This bill would lower water utility bills by:

  • requiring water utility shareholders to pay the majority of costs when the utility buys a water or wastewater system,
  • creating a referendum prior to privatization of water or sewer systems,
  • removing the QIP surcharge that speeds rate increases for utility customers.

More on this bill: The water bills charged by Illinois’ two biggest private water utilities–Illinois American Water and Aqua Illinois–are quickly becoming unaffordable, as the state’s current privatization method, pushed for by those utilities, drives up rates. CUB has written about this problem at CUBWaterTracker.com, and it’s become even more urgent this year, as Illinois American and Aqua push two new water rate-hike requests ($152 million for Illinois American Water and $19.2 million for Aqua Illinois).

What you can do: Urge your legislators to support the Water Affordability and Accountability Act. 

Telecom & Broadband Affordability

Bill Number: House Bill 5214
 Rep. Lilian Jiménez 
What it does: This bill would update Illinois’ supplemental broadband assistance fund by sunsetting the landline collection of donations and instead provide for donation collections on broadband bills (including wireless, VOIP and cable internet bills).

With Congress unable to agree on an extension of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), this legislation would be vital for helping people stay connected to the internet.
This bill would also revive low-priced local calling plans, saving money for AT&T customers in Illinois who depend on landlines.

What you can do: Send a message to your legislators in favor of Telecom & Broadband Affordability.

Electric Utility Transparency

Bill Number: House Bill 4747
Sponsor: Rep. Joyce Mason
What it does: This bill would require any electric utility that is a member of a Regional Transmission Organization (RTO) to disclose to the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) any recorded vote they make within that organization, regardless if such disclosure is required by the RTO itself.

These votes at RTOs—organizations that manage regional power grids—can impact issues that matter to our reliability and our electric bills in Illinois.

More on this bill: Illinois is one of five states where similar legislation has been announced, along with Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. “When utilities vote at regional transmission organizations, they have impacts on our clean energy transition and the cost of electricity,” Rep. Mason said in a news release put out by the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. “My bill introduces better transparency for how utilities vote in our electric markets, which is part of a healthy democracy. As a legislator, my votes are public – it should be the same for utilities whose votes impact the affordability and cleanliness of our electricity.” This bill is one of the reforms CUB’s Clara Summers is working as part of CUB’s Consumers for a Better Grid project.

What you can do: Send a message to your legislators in favor of Electric Utility Transparency.

In other news…

Right of First Refusal: CUB is continuing to fight any attempt by electric utilities Ameren Illinois and ComEd to pass “Right of First Refusal” legislation that would give them a monopoly over lucrative transmission projects (big, high-voltage wires that crisscross their service territories). Transmission can be good, delivering clean, affordable energy to consumers who need it the most, but these projects have to be cost-effective. Giving the utilities a monopoly over such projects would eliminate a competitive bidding process and potentially increase costs for electric customers. This legislation, House Bill 5234, would be like gifting ComEd and Ameren with yet another rate hike.

Hundreds of people have sent messages to their legislators opposing “Right of First Refusal” proposals–thank you. Please take action here.