Bill allowing higher electric rates goes to Quinn

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate on Tuesday approved a plan for raising electric rates to pay for one of the nation's largest projects to modernize the power grid, despite the governor's opposition.

The measure now goes to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who has threatened to veto it. The Chicago Democrat was instrumental in developing the Citizens Utility Board, a consumer advocacy group that opposed the legislation.

The bill passed 31-24, five votes short of the total needed to override a veto.

The 10-year, $3 billion project is supposed to create 2,500 jobs and install "smart meters" in all Commonwealth Edison homes and 62 percent of Ameren Services homes. The meters could reduce energy costs by more closely linking power production to demand, thereby cutting waste for which ratepayers currently pay.

About $1.1 billion would be used to upgrade existing infrastructure not directly related to the "Smart Grid."

The bill allows 2.5 percent annual rate increases for the first three years. Utilities would forfeit a portion of the profit rate if a review at the end of the first three years finds rate increases exceeded the 2.5 percent cap.

ComEd electricity bills are projected to climb $36 a year. Ameren customers would pay different amounts each year, totaling about $34 more after 10 years. But some legislators say consumers could save $7 to $10 a month through using smart meters.

Consumer advocates say the plan is too generous to ComEd and Ameren, which face little risk because of guaranteed revenues from their ratepayers.

AARP called the legislation "terrible news for millions of Illinoisans."

Doug Scott, director of the Illinois Commerce Commission, said the bill locks in the utilities' profit margin at 10.25 percent, leaving the commission little choice but to approve higher rates.

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