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Casework Roundup: A report from CUB’s General Counsel

Eric DeBellis HeadshotBy Eric DeBellis
CUB General Counsel

As usual, we’re busy juggling a heavy caseload before the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) concerning the state’s biggest utilities: ComEd, Ameren, Peoples Gas, Illinois American and Aqua Illinois. Here’s a summary of where we’re at: 

Electric Cases

Background: Back in December, the ICC slashed the ComEd and Ameren Illinois rate-hike requests by 65 percent and 87 percent, respectively. The ICC also rejected the companies’ grid plans, for failing to prove that they would be cost-effective and affordable, as required by the 2021 Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA), groundbreaking state energy legislation CUB supports. 

The latest: Both utilities filed petitions challenging the ICC’s December rulings and trying to claw back some of the rate-hike requests they were denied. Big thanks to the Illinois consumers who contributed more than 780 signatures against higher ComEd and Ameren rates. Those cases will be decided in May, and CUB hopes the companies don’t get unfair rate hikes. 

In mid-March, the two companies re-filed their grid plans, after months of back and forth between the utilities and other parties to the case, including CUB. We’re now reading through hundreds of pages of those grid plans, and we plan to file testimony in May, pushing back on unnecessary spending proposed by the utilities. The ICC will rule on the grid plans by the end of the year. 

What you can do? Please sign a new CUB petition urging the ICC to hold the utilities’ accountable to the CEJA requirement that they file responsible grid plans that are affordable and benefit consumers more than they cost them. 

Gas Cases

Background: On Nov. 16, Peoples Gas received a state-record increase, but the total was about $100 million less than what the company wanted. Plus, the company’s pipeline-replacement project (System Modernization Program), which has helped spark a heating-affordability crisis in Chicago, was paused for regulators to investigate whether it was being properly managed. Other major utilities–Ameren Illinois, Nicor Gas and North Shore Gas–received rate hikes also on Nov. 16, but they too received less than they wanted.  

The latest: The gas companies filed petitions for rehearing, but the ICC rejected all of them except Peoples Gas. In that case, Peoples was granted a rehearing on a narrow set of issues, which could lead to $7.9 million being added to the company’s record rate hike. Consumer advocates are urging the ICC to reject Peoples Gas’ request. An ICC judge sided with the utility and recommended higher rates, but the ICC is expected to make a final ruling at the end of May.

In related news: 

  • The ICC has launched the probe of Peoples Gas’ dysfunctional pipeline-replacement program (Docket 24-0081). The investigation is expected to conclude in early 2025.
  • The ICC has ICC begun its “Future of Gas” proceeding (Docket 24-0158), which regulators called for during the rate-case rulings last November. The proceedings are designed to begin a discussion among utilities, policymakers, regulators and consumer advocates on how policy needs to change as the market moves away from fossil fuels. “As the State embarks on a journey toward a 100 percent clean energy economy, the gas system’s operations will not continue to exist in its current form,” ICC Chairman Doug Scott said in news releases announcing the rulings. “Identifying how our gas and electric systems can adapt to meet these goals, and what specific actions should be taken to achieve them, will be an important task for the Commission moving forward.” (Visit the ICC’s Future of Gas page.) 

CUB will be part of these proceedings, organizing a group effort across many organizations to get factual information before the ICC and the public on how to ensure access to clean, affordable heat for all as technology changes. This process has become more urgent with the release of a report from the Building Decarbonization Coalition that predicts gas utility customers in Illinois could see the delivery charges on their bills triple in the next decade if regulators don’t limit gas utility spending. 

What you can do? Please sign our petition urging regulators to reject Peoples Gas’ attempt to claw back more money, and sign our petition urging regulators to continue to rein in reckless utility spending

Water Cases

Background: Aqua Illinois on Jan. 17 filed a $19.2 million rate-hike request with the ICC (Docket 24-0044). About a week later, Illinois American Water announced (Docket 24-0097) that it was pushing for a $152.4 million rate hike. The rate hikes will vary according to where customers live in Illinois and what kind of service they get (both water and wastewater service vs. just one service) but could increase bills for the average water and wastewater customer by up to $29 a month. 

The latest: CUB has intervened in both cases. We are partnering with the villages of Bolingbrook, Homer Glen, and University Park as well as the Illinois Industrial Energy Consumers (IIEC), which includes the University of Illinois, to help mount a challenge to the increases. CUB has already filed testimony in the Aqua case, arguing that state regulators should cut the proposed rate hike by at least 40 percent. CUB’s testimony on the Illinois American case is set for May 22. Also, the ICC has ordered two public hearings–one each for Aqua and Illinois American customers. When CUB knows where and when those hearings will be, we will let you know.

What you can do?  

Aqua: Sign CUB’s petition against the Aqua hike, and file a public comment with the ICC.

Illinois American: Sign CUB’s petition against the Illinois American hike, and file a public comment with the ICC.

Thanks for all your support!

About the author: Eric came to CUB in 2020 as Regulatory Counsel, before rising to the position of General Counsel. (He had a prevision stint at CUB as an Attorney-Policy Analyst in 2017.) Eric represents utility ratepayers in lawsuits, primarily before the Illinois Commerce Commission. His favorite part of the job is breaking down complex legal and policy issues in plain language to convey why they matter to consumers. In his free time, Eric is a proud dad and volunteers with local parks and schools.