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Utility infrastructure driving up heating and cooling costs in Illinois


Thursday, May 19, 2022  |  Article  |  Kevin Bessler

– An advocate with a public interest group says utility  infrastructure projects that are over budget are hitting Illinoisans in the pocketbook.


Peoples Gas customers paid 43% more to heat their homes this past winter compared to the year before, a result of surging gas prices and an expensive pipe replacement program.


The Public Interest Research Group of Illinois (PIRG) reports over the first three months this year, the average Peoples Gas customer paid just under $40 for the pipe replacement program through a surcharge on bills. Over the same period in 2018, the average customer paid $16 for the surcharge.


A 2013 state law provides guaranteed profits and minimal regulatory oversight for certain gas utility infrastructure programs. PIRG Illinois State Director Abe Scarr notes in 2018, the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates utilities, said that the law rendered it powerless to slow down Peoples Gas’ spending on the pipe replacement program, regardless of its inefficiencies, waste and high cost to consumers.


“Public utilities are private companies with a state-granted monopoly to provide a public good,” Scarr said. “Our laws and regulations should align their opportunity to profit with the successful provision of safe, affordable, reliable utility service, not force customers to pay more to get less.”


In April, ComEd proposed raising rates by $199 million for customers beginning in 2023, money they say is needed for grid improvements and to help with a transition to clean energy.


“As we bring more renewable energy like wind and solar onto the power grid to support the state’s ambitious clean energy goals, we must enhance our infrastructure to safely integrate these resources and ensure the more than 9 million people we serve can continue to count on reliable and affordable energy,” ComEd CEO Gill Quiniones said in a press release.


Critics note that Illinoisans have a right to be skeptical about the hike following a 2020 admission by ComEd to federal prosecutors that it spent nearly a decade using bribery to get laws passed that were favorable to the utility’s bottom line.


“As the cost of energy rises and consumers deal with the worst inflation in decades, ComEd is rewarding itself with rate hikes and massive profits off of its unaccountable spending,” Scarr said. “Unfortunately, the Illinois General Assembly whiffed when it had the chance to pass meaningful utility reform in 2021.”