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

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ComEd Voltage Sign (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

ComEd Voltage Sign (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

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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.

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