SPRINGFIELD -- Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria, and other select lawmakers got their first look Tuesday at a $500 million rate-relief package that Commonwealth Edison and the Ameren Illinois utilities would offer to consumers over the next three years.


 

By ADRIANA COLINDRES


STATE CAPITOL BUREAU


 

 



 


SPRINGFIELD -- Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria, and other select lawmakers got their first look Tuesday at a $500 million rate-relief package that Commonwealth Edison and the Ameren Illinois utilities would offer to consumers over the next three years.



In exchange, though, the General Assembly would have to reject the idea of renewing an electric rate freeze that expired the first of this year.



“Is $500 million the right number? I’m not sure,” said Risinger, who is GOP spokesman for the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.



“Obviously, $500 million is nothing to sneeze at. But it’s lacking, in my opinion, a long-term solution.”



Risinger said the proposal fails to address, for instance, whether Illinois again would use a reverse auction — like the one last fall — to set future power rates.



Risinger said Senate Republicans were excluded from the talks that resulted in the $500 million plan. That figure breaks down to $200 million in relief for Ameren customers and $300 million for ComEd customers.



Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, said the proposal involves a combination of credits and reduced rates for consumers, especially those who have been hit hardest by the higher power costs.



“It’s still being discussed. Nothing is firm in terms of this being the actual proposal,” he said.



“I think this goes a long way to give rate relief,” Clayborne added. “It goes a long way to at least create some stability for a couple of years. Now, whether it’s enough, I mean, what is enough? That’s the question.”



Earlier in the spring legislative session, Ameren and ComEd put a combined $150 million rate-relief plan on the table.


 


Clayborne said the new proposal is “a little more front-loaded to deal with summer rates.” It also is contingent on the legislature not passing measures that would freeze electric rates or impose a tax on Exelon and other power generators, he said.



“Those are the kinds of things that break the deal,” said Ameren spokesman Shelley Epstein. “This is serious money that’s on the table.”



Ameren officials continue to be involved in discussions aimed at resolving the electricity issue, Epstein said, adding: “We are working on it as hard as we can.”



ComEd spokeswoman Judy Rader sent an e-mailed statement, saying: “There are a number of proposals being considered, and discussions remain ongoing. We are committed to providing rate relief and assistance to customers, and we are moving forward with our $64 million initiative. We cannot confirm any other proposals that may be under discussion.”



House Democrats who are playing key roles in the electricity debate continued to insist Tuesday on rolling back rates to their 2006 levels and freezing them.



“Sure, it’s progress,” Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, said of the utility companies’ new proposal. “They’re upping their ante. But the question was asked to me: Is it enough? And my answer to that is: No, it’s not enough.”



Rep. George Scully, D-Flossmoor, said, “I think that all parties at the table anticipate that (a rate freeze) will be part of the solution.”



The emergence of the $500 million proposal was the latest development in the months-long discussion about what, if anything, the legislature should do to ease the financial burden on consumers who have been socked this year with dramatically higher electric rates.



The expiration of the rate freeze and the resulting higher rates are an outgrowth of Illinois’ 1997 electric deregulation law. When the legislature approved that measure, lawmakers expected residential customers eventually would be able to shop for electricity in the same way they shop for other services, such as cell phones. But competition has not yet developed in the residential electricity market.



After the 1997 law took effect, Commonwealth Edison and Ameren sold their power-generating facilities but kept their role as power distributors.


 

 



 


Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or adriana.colindres@sj-r.com.