Suburban summer storms might trigger ComEd bill support

  • Summer storms that left many in the suburbs without power for days might help build support for a controversial ComEd plan before the Illinois legislature this week.

      Summer storms that left many in the suburbs without power for days might help build support for a controversial ComEd plan before the Illinois legislature this week. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Updated 10/25/2011 6:17 PM

SPRINGFIELD -- As the debate rages in Springfield this week over ComEd's proposal to raise rates and improve its grid, it may be Mother Nature's bashing of the suburbs this summer that could convince some lawmakers to approve it.

After hundreds of thousands of suburban residents were left without electricity for days this summer, state Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, began pushing legislation this week intended to address concerns about power reliability.


Harmon's plan, which was approved by the Senate Tuesday, would raise standards ComEd has to meet when it comes to dealing with outages and force the company to spend more money on its existing lines in an effort to prevent future storm damages.

Harmon said the moves were in direct response to the storms, and fellow lawmakers said the changes make a difference to them.

Sen. Terry Link said he couldn't vote for the plan without the changes. He voted "no" the last time the ComEd proposal came up.

"That's a lot of outages for a lot of people," Link said. He voted for Harmon's plan Tuesday.

From June to August, 2.4 million customers saw outages, more than doubling most previous years.

Not all suburban lawmakers are on board, though.

Sen. Susan Garrett, a Lake Forest Democrat, said she wanted a proposal to increase communications during storms between ComEd and local suburban officials worked into Harmon's package.

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Garrett said that during the storms and in the immediate aftermath, local officials had to function without much help from ComEd.

"ComEd was nowhere to be found," she said.

Harmon's proposal, approved by a 37-20 Senate vote, is separate from ComEd's main plan to raise rates in exchange for high-tech improvements to the electric grid.

Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed that plan, and lawmakers are considering whether to override him.

"There's no way to put perfume on this skunk," Quinn told reporters Tuesday.

But the addition of Harmon's legislation might make the original proposal more palatable for lawmakers like Link, making an override more feasible.

Lawmakers declined to take up the vetoed proposal Tuesday. Harmon's changes won't take effect unless lawmakers override Quinn.


In the original plan Quinn vetoed, ComEd would spend more of its investment on new grid features. But in Harmon's update, they'd have to spend equal amount on their existing lines -- $200 million more than planned -- to make upgrades such as burying lines.

Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, voted for ComEd's original plan earlier this year.

"I don't think there's any question that this makes it better," he said.

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