Friday, January 14, 2011

ComEd renews pitch for automatic rate increases

Commonwealth Edison Co. plans a big legislative push this spring that would allow electric and natural-gas utilities to hike delivery rates each year and would sharply curtail state utility regulators’ power to control the price for power and heat.

The measure, modeled in part on a controversial rate-freeze bill ComEd tried to move through the General Assembly last May, would give the state’s utilities far more certainty about recouping infrastructure investments in a timely way. But consumer advocates warn it would increase utility bills.

In a major change from the previous legislation, the new version would involve all of the state’s gas and power utilities rather than just Chicago-based ComEd. That means ComEd can enlist industry allies and add clout to its lobbying effort.

Under the proposal, utilities that agree to invest in their systems at a specific level would be allowed to automatically change their rates each year based on their costs. That would enable them to avoid the Illinois Commerce Commission’s review process, which often stretches to 11 months. The ICC instead would be given a narrower, after-the-fact review to ensure the costs aren’t egregious.

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