September 13, 2011
By Fanna Haile-Selassie and Randy Livingston
CARBONDALE -- Governor Pat Quinn has set up a showdown with lawmakers and power companies over electric rates in Illinois. The governor vetoed a plan Monday to let utilities charge customers more to pay for system upgrades. Now, his lieutenant is backing up that decision.
This October's veto session could end up with a show down over utility rates.
"It passed with a majority, but not a veto-proof majority."
The legislation vetoed by Governor Quinn is meant to help utility companies Ameren and ComEd improve their infrastructure and implement a smart grid energy system. Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon says that all sounds good, but the means to get there needs improvement.
"Smart grid technology, I'm a big fan of, but we ought to be smart about how we set those rates. And this would lock-in a profit for the utility companies over a period of many years, Which is not necessarily related to what all of us would get out of the smart grid and the cost of the smart grid," says Simon.
The proposal would create rate hikes for customers for 10 years in order to collect $625 million for grid improvements. Ameren officials say the benefits of the project far outweigh the costs, including fewer service outages, roughly 450 new jobs, as well as cheaper utility bills at the end of the process. The company says Governor Quinn's veto of the bill will only hurt customers.
"Certainly, we're disappointed that he vetoed what is an excellent piece of legislation that's going to benefit the state, our residential and business customers, but we're certainly optimistic that the Illinois general assembly, when it meets in October, will, of course, override the veto," says Ameren Illinois spokesperson Leigh Morris.
But lawmakers looking for an override may first need the support of those paying the higher costs, and many low income and elderly customers are against the plan
"Well they're always wanting money for rebuilding their technology, and I don't believe that they need anymore money," exclaims AARP member John Eaton.
Lieutenant Governor Simon says there is a better bill that would generate money for energy improvement. In that measure, the rate hikes would not be automatic and instead depend on a yearly review of performance.