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A new year means higher electricity rates in northern Illinois

Crain's Chicago Business

Thursday, December 7, 2017  |  Article  |  Steve Daniels

Utilities (94)

The calendar turns, and your electricity rates go up. That seemingly immutable law won't be violated this coming year. State regulators today blessed a $96 million delivery rate hike for Commonwealth Edison that will add about a dollar to the average household's monthly electric bill beginning in January.

The increase is the latest in a series since ComEd won approval of a 2011 law requiring the Illinois Commerce Commission to follow a strict formula that gives the regulators little leeway to challenge utility requests. The so-called smart-grid law, enacted over then-Gov. Pat Quinn's veto, authorized $2.6 billion in power-grid improvements and the installation of smart meters in all northern Illinois homes and businesses.

Just how little flexibility does the ICC have under the law? ComEd requested $96.3 million. The ICC granted $95.6 million, a 0.7 percent reduction.

Combined with past increases, ComEd will have hiked delivery rates by $830 million since passage of the 2011 law. That's about an $11 increase in the average household's monthly bill. But overall, electric bills have been relatively steady for much of that period due to falling energy prices, which combined with the cost of delivery comprise a total electric bill.

The energy side of the bill is now starting to rise substantially, though, thanks to government intervention. Households are now paying about $2 extra per month to subsidize two Illinois nuclear plants owned by ComEd parent Exelon. That's under the Future Energy Jobs Act, signed into law last year by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Policy changes by the regional operator of the power grid running from Chicago through Ohio and Pennsylvania into the mid-Atlantic also are boosting power costs for consumers.

ComEd said in a statement: "The smart grid program has reduced customer outages by 50 percent and outage duration by 48 percent and resulted in highest customer satisfaction on record, while keeping the average ComEd bill at nearly 30 percent below the national average."

The grid modernization program authorized by the law has helped improved ComEd's reliability statistics, measured in power outages per year and the average duration of outages. The utility also expects to finish installing all its smart meters next year.