Lawmakers Override Quinn’s Veto Of ‘Smart Grid’ Legislation

Updated 10/26/11 – 10:20 p.m.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) — Overriding a veto from Gov. Pat Quinn, Illinois lawmakers have given power companies in Illinois authority to raise rates every year for the next decade to pay for modernizing the state’s power grid.

In a quick succession of votes, the House and Senate voted to approve the so-called “Smart Grid” legislation, despite opposition from consumer advocates and a veto earlier this year from Quinn.

Lawmakers also approved changes aimed at addressing complaints from critics of the measure.

The Illinois Senate voted 36-19 to override Quinn’s veto Wednesday afternoon and, less than half an hour later, the Illinois House 74-42 to override the veto.

The “Smart Grid” bill will now become law on Jan. 1.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Dahl Reports

The move comes shortly after both houses approved a “trailer bill” designed to address some complaints about the bill. It would lower the profit rate guaranteed to ComEd and downstate power company Ameren, impose stricter performance standards for the power companies and increase the amount of money they must spend on improvements to existing infrastructure.

The trailer bill was approved with veto-proof majorities in both chambers. The Senate approved the trailer bill on Tuesday and the House did so on Wednesday.

Quinn had opposed the plan allowing power companies to raise rates for system improvements like the high-tech “Smart Grid.” Critics said it would generate unfair profits and weaken state regulators, but ComEd and Ameren have said it would improve service and reduce service interruptions and weather-related power outages.

Tom Remec, who bought a generator this summer when his power went out the second time amid a number of powerful storms to hit the area, wasn’t happy with ComEd’s response to the widespread outages. Neither were his hard hit Des Plaines neighbors.

“They should be ashamed of themselves, because they’re not providing the customer service that they should be,” Debbie Piskura said at the time.

ComEd has said some of the major power outages this past summer would not have lasted as long if their desired smart-grid upgrade of their distribution system had taken place.

ComEd and Ameren also have said the bill would upgrade the power grid, put people to work, and overhaul the regulatory system.

Supporters of the legislation have said the $3 billion, 10-year plan is needed to fund a “Smart Grid” that would monitor energy use and reduce waste. The legislation would have provided ComEd and its downstate counterpart, Ameren, with money for basic infrastructure for the “Smart Grid.”

Beginning in January, ComEd customers will be shelling out about $3 more a month to help pay for upgrades to an outdated electric grid and to help make it more storm proof.

“I don’t find $3 a month very much to get better service,” one Des Plaines resident said. So she’s okay with the “Smart Grid” legislation if the upgrades to the system prevent long-term outages.

The legislation lawmakers passed does have a storm reliability benchmark, meaning if the power companies can’t deliver at a certain level, there would be limits to the rate hike.

“I think there should be a penalty for just having lost (power) beyond their loss of income, an incentive to keep working to keep lines reliable.” Remec said.

He also said he believes a big part of that is taking care of old, rotting trees that fall in storms and take power lines with them.

He’s not happy about paying more a month, because he doesn’t think it’ll make a difference.

ComEd has argued that converting to a “Smart Grid” would eventually save customers approximately $3 billion over a 20-year period by providing daily usage information that would help them monitor costs.

But Quinn has bashed the legislation for allowing ComEd and Ameren to raise rates every year for the next decade. Critics have also said the legislation allows unfair guaranteed profits for the power companies.

  • Taxpayer

    Good job! Finally our disfunctional Illinois government does something good. With all of the whining and crying about power going out in big storms and the time it takes to make repairs, a smart grid is an obvious neccessity. ComEd would have never flipped the bill for this, as that would be a foolish business decision!!!

  • dan

    I agree taxpayer-you can’t have it both ways-Everybody wants reliable power but don’t seem willing to pay for it.

    Although I don’t really like the thought of higher electric bills I can say that the workers at com-ed always come through and get things up in a reasonable amount of time-I sure wouldn’t be messin with live high voltage wire in a blinding rain storm-hats off to you guys!

    It was kind of comical watching people blab about being out of power after that horrible storm last summer-we are spoiled-cable and power goes out and it is the end of the world

  • ak

    ComEd is a complete joke…do you really think they will deliver on their promise?

    • r gallman

      That’s why I call them COMMUNIST EDISON! I have worked in their powerhouses—they care about PROFITS only. I am old enough to remember paying for their INFRASTRUCTURE UPGRADES on several occasions—time to
      get rid of all in Springfield—can you say PAYOFF?

  • Wolf

    Demonstrates the level of bribes by the special interests and total corruption of the lawmakers who are suppose to represent taxpayers…the SmartGrid investment will pay for itself in savings in operations and reduction in manpower and should be funded via debt by COmEd instead of the taxpayers funding it with higher costs and ComEd reaping all the benefits at no risk…this shows the total corruption in the public sector …

    • Taxpayer

      No bribes, no corruption. ComEd would have never flipped the bill for this, if lawmakers hadn’t made this move, things would have never changed. Com Ed would have made their money with or without the upgrades. ComEd is not a charity, decisions they make are based on good business sense only..

  • Charlene

    OMG! You have got to be kidding. Are you all for real? You people are complaining about upgrading equipment to help keep the lights on. That’s a joke. Where were you when Quinn raised the taxes and then doubled the tollway fees…..that didn’t bother you? You probably are the first to complain when the lights go out …. but don’t want to pay anything to help improve the service. Whin … Whin… Whin… all for about $3.00 a month. I bet your cell phone bills are larger than your electric bill. Stop the whinning!

    • PG

      Ummm….the electricity goes out because of severe storms blowing through the area, and trees falling on power lines. A smart grid will not stop severe storms nor trees from falling on power lines. And it certainly will not put those power lines back up. It is ComEd workers who will do that, and they are only a phone call away.

      With that said, I think that people could handle this increase in electricity rates if it was at a different time. Earlier this year, income taxes were raised 66%. Tollway fees are doubling. Property taxes continue to rise, despite the fact that property values have fallen for three straight years. Chicago is doubling it’s water rates by 2014. At every turn, the city and state of Illinois is raising fees, penalties, etc., and taxpayers are not seeing any enhancements to their services. The increases in fees, etc., are to just maintain the status qua. This is not sustainable, and I believe that people fussing about this raise in electrical rates is mostly because this is just another burden for people to bear, and most likely has little to do with a mere $3 rate increase per month.

    • Kevin

      You can bet your $3.00 several times over that your electric bills will double once they get the “Smart Grid” in place… then you can “whin”…

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