ComEd 'trailer' bill moves forward in House; override next

Laws and LegislationIllinois GovernorPat QuinnDon HarmonLisa MadiganKevin McCarthyExelon Corp.

SPRINGFIELD -- House members voted Wednesday to adopt changes to smart grid legislation that was vetoed by Gov. Pat Quinn. The vote 91-24 is significant because it clears the way for legislators who voted against the original bill to change their votes under the compromise. The landmark legislation, which would have ratepayers paying for a massive buildout of smart grid in Illinois, could be voted on as early as today.

"I think people recognize there's been a lot of work done since May," Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park) said. "People understand that this is a time for leadership. We have terrible unemployment in this state."

McCarthy (D-Orland Park) has been fighting to see ComEd's smart grid bill become a reality since the very beginning and now that it's the bitter end, he's not taking any chances.

With Quinn's veto holding up the original legislation, McCarthy has been working overtime since May to find a compromise that will win over legislators who didn't vote for the original legislation. Short of an outright override of that veto, he's given legislators not one, but two options to establish a compromise.

A so-called trailer bill sponsored by Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) tacks utility concessions onto legislation supported by Commonwealth Edison Co., the utility subsidiary of Chicago-based Exelon Corp. Wednesday, he introduced new legislation through the House Public Utilities Committee that does essentially the same thing. The idea, he says was to create another mechanism by which a compromise could be breached if the original trailer bill didn't pass muster in the House.

Quinn vowed to fight passage of the legislation with the help of state Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

The original legislation outlines cost increases to consumers amounting to $3 a month in ComEd's territory to pay for smart grid and other infrastructure improvements that supporters say will help consumers monitor and manage electricity use and help ComEd more quickly pinpoint outages and make repairs.

Opponents, many who support a build out of smart grid, have said the utilities are using the issue of smart grid as a "Trojan horse" that is being used to permanently alter the way electric rates are decided. The bill includes regulatory changes that would set ComEd's return on equity according to a formula and allow the utility to ask for a raise from the Illinois Commerce Commission on a more frequent basis.

ComEd says the changes are necessary in order to plan for long-term investments like smart grid. Opponents say it is an excuse to pad its bottom line. The changes would decrease regulatory lag and mean millions more to ComEd in revenue each year.

"Most of the groups are not opposed to smart grid. They're opposed to how we want to pay for it," McCarthy said.

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