ComEd Heckled At Hearing On Power Outages

UPDATED 08/16/11 6:56 p.m.

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (CBS) — A standing-room-only crowd filled a Highland Park Country Club ballroom on Tuesday as ComEd officials tried to explain the response to this summer’s storms, and how the utility hopes to improve performance in the future.

Some of those crowd of about 200 people heckled as ComEd and regulators tried to explain what worked and what has not in the utility’s response to severe storms this summer.

When a question was asked about the costs involved, there were boos, hisses and comments from the crowd. One man asked if it would go toward raises for ComEd executives.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports

ComEd President Anne Pramaggiore said the storms this summer have shredded ComEd’s Budget.

“Customer outages due to storms for 2011 have exceeded any full year in the last 10 and we’re only halfway through August,” she said.

A storm on July 11 left nearly 900,000 ComEd customers without power, and it took six days for all the customers to get their power restored.

Altogether, nearly 1 million ComEd customers have been without power at some point this summer due to storms.

The historic level of outages prompted Illinois State Rep. Karen May (D-Highland Park) and the state House of Representatives Public Utilities Committee to come up with a solution. ComEd says smart meters on homes might well have hastened recovery efforts specifically from the July 11 storm, which the company’s president called, “the largest storm in our history.”

As CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports, it’s been a summer with so many destructive storms that ComEd has already spent $80 million to restore power to hundreds of thousands of customers affected by the storms – double its budgeted rate for the year.

But Lyle Cazel of Glenview said, “They play fast and loose with the total truth.”

The storms have also empowered the public to speak out about shoddy service and outages that they claim could have been avoided.

“Commonwealth Edison has done no maintenance on our power lines. They are over 50 years old,” Bill Sallin of Glenview said.

“You call up during some of these bad storms and they say power will be back on in four hours. It comes back on in four days,” Cazel said.

ComEd Senior Vice President Fidel Marquez said ComEd will abandon its practice of predicting when power will be restored, based on historical data.

“Rather than rely on that system, we’re going to take more of a good old-fashioned management look at those E-T-R’s,” Marquez said.

State Rep. Dave Winters (R-Shirland) told ComEd officials “To enhance your profit you have actually scaled back on the number of line workers you employ.”

The many complaints from residents, lawmakers and other elected officials prompted another apology from ComEd for all the outages during the summer’s storms.

“ComEd regrets that many of our customers sat for multiple days without power and that some are deeply dissatisfied,” ComEd President Anne Pramaggiore said.

Pramiggiore spoke of localizing dispatch systems for repair crews, bundling jobs so that more are addressed at once, plotting where crew and problems exist using GPS technology and using more local contractors to ramp up repairs faster.

Park Ridge Mayor David Schmidt complained that the problems with ComEd are not limited to storm outages, but poor service that he said has been going on for years.

Schmidt was among nearly two dozen suburban elected officials testifying at the hearing, complaining ComEd has reduced maintenance budgets by $46 million over three years, in order to increase shareholder profits from 5 percent to just over 10 percent.

“That seems to be the most important thing to ComEd, rather than the service,” Schmidt said.

But Marquez said the profit margin for ComEd shareholders is on par with other utility companies across the country.

Sallin said he believes there would be far fewer outages if ComEd spent adequate money to maintain the system.

“Our problem with power is not storm-related. It is due to absolutely faulty [equipment], no maintenance by Commonwealth Edison whatsoever on the power lines that are going through our subdivision,” Sallin said.

ComEd officials also used the hearing to stump for legislation that would guarantee annual rate hikes for ComEd. The proposal was approved by lawmakers but is being held up by a legislative maneuver by Senate President John Cullerton due to a threatened veto by Gov. Pat Quinn.

  • Jack

    Maybe all of these complainers can file a class action lawsuit against Mother Nature for making the wind blow so hard. I personally think ComEd did a splendid job with the repairs, considering the massive amount of damage the storms this summer caused.

  • Walter

    If I recall correctly the City of Chicago won a law suit sometime back against ComEd because they (ComEd) speculated on investing in atomic energy instead of repairs and upgrading the power grid Seems they still have a problem in maintaining the system

  • Chad

    $80million divided by the number of households in Chicagoland = rate increase for everyone.

  • bill burns

    Coloreds report that they aren’t paying anything for electric. They want whitey to pay rtheir bills.

  • yeahsure

    maybe the multiple outages, not just from the storm on August 11, is ComEd’s way of making their case for the Smart Grid…maybe it is part of the plan…ah, if we had the smart grid, things would have been better….speculation.

  • RobertWilliams

    MUST-SEE 4-minute youtube video on Smart meters:

  • FR

    I’m sure that smart meters would have been able to remove the trees from the wires and re-plant toppled poles…..All smart meters would do is suck up money that could have been used to trim trees and replace poles. Also, the “smarts” of the meters probably would have been knocked out too.

  • FR

    Wow ! That was an interesting video about smart meters being used by police to spy on people in their own homes. They can get an idea of when you are home and if you are doing some business activities. He is right, just say, No you cannot change my meter and send a certified letter as he describes.

  • Narda

    It’s really a result of America’s Third World infrastructure. Now you’ve getting the “revenge” for not keeping infrastructure in top shape, and for not upgrading it on an ongoing basis. Our power (I live on the North Shore) has not only gone out on bad stormy days, but also almost every time a squirrel decides to chew on a cable, etc.

    Apparently the so-called “rich” USA cannot afford underground cables leading to homes, like they have in “old Europe”. That’s what you in a nation that has a military presence in the rest of the world second to none, right?

    It’s not only the power grid that’s hopelessly outdated — where should I begin? It’s the roads, gas lines, bridges, water service, broadband speed, communication technology, etc. that is at a 19th century/early 20th century level, or much worse than in other countries.

    Everytime I travel to Europe and back (Northern and Western Europe), I get the feeling I am entering a Third World country when I return to the U.S.

    All you have to do is look at some of the photos Google Street, and compare, say, Detroit (or many other U.S. towns) with street views in, say, Norway, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, etc. and you can see the difference!!!

  • Pat

    Just another big Corporation taking care of business. Deplete the work force, deplete maintenece programs to increase the bottom line for shareholders and more importatly the CEO big bonus for increased shareholder values. Pander and lobby the politicans for rate hikes and sell it to the public any way they can. Sooner ofr later after the politicaians get their payoff in the form of campaign contributions they vote in the increase and the public pays for all of it.
    This is the American way ! keep the politicans and you vote to keep up the same old good old boy network.

  • Peace-N-Love

    To all the rich whiners that live in the North Shore, better you than me! I think ComEd is doing an okay job with all these freak storms. So you can’t turn on your cappuccino machine, or your Bently is not getting the proper ventilation in your 500 sq.ft. garage…and blah blah blahhh! How about installing a generator for your milllion dollar? Oh that’s right, its an eye sore for the people in your pool or the golfers teeing off 50 feet from your backyard. Do you idiots also realize that a majority of the Exelon/ComEd Executives live in your area?

    • Nancy

      no they live in Hinsdale that’s the whiner capital of Illinois

    • Peacen-N-Love

      Ooops! I meant million dollar ‘home.’

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