Monday, January 08, 2007

Now we know

Last month I blogged about something I found strange, that the two dominant electric utilities in Illinois weren’t on the same side of the proposal to phase in electricity rate increases over the next three years (see December 14 blog). Commonwealth Edison supported the so-called compromise introduced by Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and House Minority Leader Tom Cross. Ameren Illinois opposed it.

A House committee Sunday shed light on the politics shaping the debate. House Speaker Michael Madigan suggested ComEd was at the table in drafting the Jones-Cross bill. Ameren was not. Neither was the attorney general’s office or the Citizens Utility Board.

Madigan asked ComEd’s general counsel when he found out about the Jones-Cross phase-in plan. Counsel Darryl Bradford said he and ComEd CFO Robert McDonald talked to legislative staffers and offered suggestions for the bill. None of the others who testified Sunday — Susan Hedman of the Illinois Attorney Genera’s office, David Kolata of CUB and Michael Sullivan of Ameren — said they knew about the bill until shortly before it surfaced in the Senate.

Sunday night, Cross said ComEd didn’t write the phase-in proposal. His staff and Jones’ staff served up the meat and potatoes. “ComEd may have ultimately been talked to, but the idea of coming together and trying to work out a compromise came from us talking, and Emil talking and his chief of staff talking,” he said. “We knew where we wanted to go with it. We were just trying to get some specifics.”

He said he wasn’t aware of whether Ameren Illinois was asked to provide specifics for the language in the bill.

Also Sunday night, enough House Democrats and Republicans voted to approve a three-year rate freeze extension. It’s not expected to see daylight in the Senate. Even if it does, Cross said the rate-freeze measure could be thrown out because he expects the electric utilities to end up in bankruptcy court or federal court.

The Illinois Commerce Commission already approved a different plan to phase in electricity rate increases over three years. The big difference is that consumers can opt to phase in their rate increases over three years, but they would have to repay the deferred amount each year between 2010 and 2012. If no legislation makes it to the governor’s desk, the ICC-approved phase-in will remain in effect. It started January 2.

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