The Southern Illinoisan
September 14, 2011
By Rob Crow
CARBONDALE - Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon on Tuesday urged lawmakers to uphold Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of a bill that would lead to improvements and upgrades to the power grid, but would also lock in rate hikes for Ameren and ComEd customers.
Speaking at Senior Adult Services in Carbondale, Simon was joined by Linda Clutts, president of the Carbondale AARP chapter, to speak out against the bill, which Quinn vetoed Monday.
"I am a supporter of environmental initiatives," Simon said. "I like the idea of a smart grid. But we don't need a smart grid through not-so-smart rate hike policies."
Ten years of rate hikes would be built into the legislation, which would cost consumers about an extra $34 per year by year 10. Opponents oppose the mandated rate hikes, which are usually set by the Commerce Commission after considering several factors.
"Illinois consumers are in a very tight spot, facing rising prices for fuel, food and medicines in an unrelenting recession," Clutts said. "We just cannot afford to pay a higher bill."
Ameren officials say the benefit of having upgrades to the power grid and roughly 750,000 "smart meters" installed are worth more than the rate increase will charge.
"We are optimistic the Legislature will vote to override the veto," Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said.
There are job provisions in the bill, which would mandate that Ameren either create 450 jobs or pay a $3,000 fine for each of those jobs not created. Simon said she would like to see better protections placed on the jobs.
The bill passed both the House and Senate, but each chamber would need to find four more votes to override Quinn's veto. Simon said she expects the vote to be a challenging one for lawmakers when they return to Springfield next month for the veto session.
Quinn, Simon and Attorney General Lisa Madigan all oppose the bill, citing the rate increases and saying the utility companies would receive guaranteed profits. Ameren officials tout the job creation and a $625 million improvement to the power grid as reasons why the bill would be beneficial.