September 14, 2011
By Sanford Schmidt
ALTON - Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon visited the Metro East on Wednesday, bringing good news about a science advisory committee and a challenge for people who don't want to pay higher power bills.
She stopped at the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center to talk about a prestigious new science advisory committee and met with a reporter after her presentation to urge people to support Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of a utility rate hike.
She said Quinn vetoed the bill Tuesday and noted that it will be discussed in the fall veto session starting in October.
The bill would have raised rates by more than $2.4 billion and guaranteed shareholder profits of more than 10 percent. If the veto is overridden, customers of Ameren in the Metro East would see their rates go up by 7 percent a year.
Ameren and Commonwealth Edison justified the rates by stating the additional revenue would go to pay for Smart Grid technology. The technology would provide the companies computerized information on power outages without requiring customers to call to report outages.
"It's not that the Smart Grid is a bad idea, it's just that we also need smart policies to protect consumers," Simon said.
She said the rate increase bill was pushed through the General Assembly by the power companies.
The normal process is to allow the utilities to front the money to acquire assets and improve services, then get the rate increases to offset the costs. That way, the consumers have their say before the Illinois Commerce Commission and through their legislators before the rates go up.
That has not happened in this case, Simon said.
"This was an attempt to snake around the normal process," she said.
She said there are several outcomes that could come out of the fall veto session. An override is one of them. A trailer bill might offer some kind of compromise.
Simon pointed to an alternative Illinois Commerce Commission proposal supported by Quinn, known as House Amendment 3 to House Bill 14. Among its pro-consumer regulatory reforms, it would link rate hikes to modernization and performance.
She encouraged people to visit www.saynotoratehikes.org and make their voices heard.
"At a time when many Illinoisans are living paycheck to paycheck or struggling to find employment, utility companies are looking to weaken accountability and guarantee increases in the profits," Simon said. "I will not support any proposal that sticks consumers with the tab for automatic utility rate hikes."
At the NGRREC field station near Melvin Price Locks and Dam 26, she said the Science Advisory Committee's volunteer membership brings together experts working in academia and the private sector at no cost to the taxpayer.
NGRREC, which will house the committee, is a part of Lewis and Clark Community College.
The committee will assist Simon in her efforts to protect Illinois rivers from potential threats and reduce flood damage.
She noted that before there was rail and adequate roads, the major commercial thoroughfares were the inland waterways, and it was along those waterways that the major cities were built.