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Rate rage prompts Committee of the Whole

Tuesday, Feb 27, 2007

* Today’s House Committee of the Whole to discuss electric utility rates and deregulation will begin at 1 o’clock. You can listen live by clicking here.

* I’m not sure how much I buy into this lede

The leader of the Illinois Senate, who in recent months has been the Legislature’s top opponent of attempts to freeze electric rates, may be softening that stance in the face of intense downstate anger over skyrocketing Ameren electric bills.

A freeze “is one of many options that is being looked at,” said Cindy Davidsmeyer, spokeswoman for Senate President Emil Jones.

Jones is the main reason the Legislature didn’t freeze electric rates before they jumped dramatically in January, but there have been several indications lately that his thinking on that may be changing.

“Especially with Ameren, we have heard the concerns of a lot of consumers,” Davidsmeyer said Monday.

Jones’ apparent shift comes as the House convenes today a rare special hearing of all 118 members to consider the utility rate hike issue. The House passed a rate freeze once. It’s expected to easily pass a second time if it comes up for a vote, with lawmakers being inundated with calls from angry consumers who are getting their first look at the new rates.

There’s no doubt that Jones is feeling heat from his downstate members in Ameren’s turf. But remember that Jones still wants to protect ComEd, and he moved legislation out of Rules Committee last week that would impose a six-month rate freeze on Ameren only.

House Speaker Michael Madigan wants to extend the freeze to both Ameren and ComEd. As I told my subscribers last week, Madigan told me soon after Jones moved the Ameren-only bill that an amendment would be waiting for that legislation if it made to his chamber.

* Meanwhile, ComEd is offering up some token assistance to help “ease” its rate hikes.

ComEd promises to spend $30 million over the next three years on conservation programs and to help low-income and senior citizen utility customers cope with January’s 24 percent rate increase.

“We’ve done all the things we know how to do to soften the transition to the new rates,” said Frank Clark, CEO of the utility, which serves 3.7 million northern Illinois customers.

$8 per customer. Man, they really dug deep on that one.

* Illinois House set to discuss electric rates:

State Rep. George Scully, a Flossmoor Democrat who pushed for the special hearing, said it would last for several hours. “Consumers should be confident that their legislators are taking up this task,” he said.

* Editorial: Focus on real electric rate fix, not knee jerk response

These hikes are a real hardship for many, so a rate freeze may sound appetizing. But knee-jerk responses to complex issues are almost always a bad idea, and a freeze still won’t fix the underlying problem, namely that the Legislature’s 1997 deregulation plan failed to create competition, exposing residential customers to monopolized market forces. Ameren says a freeze would junk its credit rating, force layoffs and jeopardize service reliability.

For his part, Cisel says he will testify in Springfield today and hopes to offer a “workable compromise” on rates, the specifics of which will be divulged then. We’ll be all ears. House lawmakers should be, too. They should avoid posturing in this largely symbolic session and get to work on a real, long-term solution, which means compromising with Senate colleagues and exploring other avenues - including a serious study of re-regulation.

* The jolt of electric rate increases

Randy Huckelberry braced himself for a higher electricity bill when the state’s decade-old freeze on rates expired last month.

Huckelberry, 40, looked around at the new windows, insulation and siding he’d installed in his home in Downstate Carrier Mills. His highest bill in the winter months had been $300, maybe $400, so perhaps, he thought, it would go up a few hundred dollars. That definitely would be tough.

But he was floored when the bill turned out to be $870.

* And just remember this last point: February has been much colder than January, and Rep. Scully mentioned to me yesterday that usage is up over 100 percent. Those March bills are gonna cause yet another round of outrage.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Terry - Tuesday, Feb 27, 07 @ 8:58 am:

    Ameren has been killing us folks in Southern Illinois. My widowed mother’s electric bill went from $150 to $295 a month. She is elderly and on $900 a month fixed income. I had to help her out but it is people like my mother who are hurting. I also know of one woman, similar to my mother’s case, who was hosptilized for chest pains after worrying about whether she will have enough money for food.

  2. - Logical - Tuesday, Feb 27, 07 @ 9:22 am:

    Those of us downstaters that have been buying electricity from electric coops have been paying these high prices for years. Where is our relief. This whole problem can be blamed on the politicians and their past decisions. While I agree some help might be warranted, the Springfield politicians will not solve or help this problem. Their solution will be a typical political one. The pain will come later and will be much worse than the present.

  3. - fiefdomone - Tuesday, Feb 27, 07 @ 9:23 am:

    Yes our Ameren bills went up significantly this month. But I took a closer look and discovered that it was my gas bill that was the real high cost driver. My electric went up about $36 - about $1 a day. I think I can live with that after 15 years of no rate increases.

  4. - Squideshi - Tuesday, Feb 27, 07 @ 9:41 am:

    Why is Jones protecting ComEd, rather than representing his constituents? This issue needs to come back to hurt him during his re-election campaign. I say take the fight to his district.

    Take a look at the following Illinois wind maps from the U.S. Department of Energy. While not included in these maps, Lake Michigan is a category 5 wind resorce, which means that it is one of the best places in the United States to take advantage of wind power. We should put a farm of foating windmills out there and harness the natural power of the windy city.

  5. - cermak_rd - Tuesday, Feb 27, 07 @ 10:49 am:

    I don’t see why Jones should do anything about Amaren. It’s not hurting his constituents and he’s stated more than once that downstaters don’t tend to care about his constituents concerns, even when there’s no impact to downstate constituents.

  6. - Levois - Tuesday, Feb 27, 07 @ 2:06 pm:

    I’m on a broadband connection and the live video keeps crapping out on me.

  7. - Belle - Tuesday, Feb 27, 07 @ 2:35 pm:

    My $230/mth gas and electric bill went to $462 for January. That was with my turning the gas in the one fireplace it is used to low and the thermostat to 66. I have all the insulation, proper energy saving hot water heater and other appliances to save on energy use. Did i mention that during this period i was without electricity for 4 days? Weather related outage. The legislators have stuck it to downstate allright. My neighbors on fixed income are like me. We are making just enough not to qualify for any assistance program. I hate to think what they are looking at when I know I’m looking at selling my home. Sometimes you have to know when ‘the game’ isn’t a game anymore.

  8. - NIEVA - Tuesday, Feb 27, 07 @ 6:54 pm:

    My son lives in marion and his normal electric bill was about 125.00 on the leveler plan. His bill went to 250.00 in Feb. Most people thought they could stand a 50% increase in their bills,instead they recieved 100% and more increases. Just how much is Ameren charging per kilowatt? With all the talk I have not heard one person say what that charge is.

  9. - Anon - Tuesday, Feb 27, 07 @ 9:11 pm:

    Who does Emil Jones think he is? What right does he have to stick it to the very people who allow him to be in office since 1973? Why do senators continue to elect him as their “leader?” His actions on the Ameren situation are not those of a leader; they are instead of a person who has totally sold out to lobbyists and big money. He is an embarassment to this state and the hard-working people he purports to represent. It is time to send him home for good come next election.

  10. - DRB - Tuesday, Feb 27, 07 @ 9:26 pm:

    I keep telling you folks, this is nothing but a version of a Democrat tax increase. The Democrats could have controlled this but it was not important enough for them to be concerned about. After all, it only affects the “little people.”

  11. - Drew - Thursday, Mar 1, 07 @ 5:35 pm:

    The 1997 rate freeze is to blame here. I mean, what would you do if you owned a business and you were disallowed by law to raise prices. For 10 stinking years. You better believe all other prices are still going up during that time. This is just an excellent example of what happens when governments try to set prices. I’m not saying some government involvement isn’t necessary in the economy at times, but setting prices should be left to the market. Besides, the Illinois legislature has had 10 years to do something about the increase they knew was coming. Nothing like waiting to the last minute. I do feel for all those Ameren customers though. My buddy’s bill went up like 200%. OUCH!

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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