Chicago Sun-Times
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Senate approves ComEd-backed 'smart-grid' plan

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SPRINGFIELD-In a blow to Gov. Pat Quinn, the Illinois Senate Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation sought by Commonwealth Edison to boost utility rates by $70 million annually as part of a push to relaunch the stalled modernization of its electrical grid.

The bill, sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), passed the Senate by a 44-9 vote, with one member voting present. It now moves to the House.

Before the Senate vote, the plan was altered slightly to require that ComEd complete its so-called smart-grid modernization within a year, instead of 18 months, as had been spelled out in an earlier version of Cullerton's bill.

Under the plan, ComEd's customers would not see a rate increase until 2014, with the average residential utility bill growing then by about 40 cents per month and increasing to 80 cents a month by 2017, the utility has estimated in the past.

The fast-tracked legislation would restore funding to ComEd and Ameren Illinois that was lost when the Illinois Commerce Commission imposed rate cuts on the utilities last May and again in October.

In its rulings, the ICC denied ComEd as much as $100 million in rate hikes, prompting a challenge by the utility in the state appellate court. Cullerton's bill would only address between $65 million and $70 million sought by ComEd, the utility said.

Cullerton said the decision by the ICC to cut rates was a misinterpretation of smart-grid legislation passed in 2011 to subsidize a $2.6 billion ComEd upgrade of its electric grid over the next decade.

The measure "corrects the ICC's interpretation ... and establishes processes to get infrastructure and grid modernization programs back on track," Cullerton said during floor debate Thursday.

Quinn opposes the legislation, but the margin of the Senate vote suggests his power to block the plan has been more than blocked. If the governor were to veto the package, the Senate would need 36 votes to override that action by Quinn. Thursday's roll call exceeded that threshold by eight votes.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan also opposes the measure.

ComEd praised Thursday's Senate vote.

"This legislation will help ComEd build a modern grid to reduce power outages, give customers more choice and control over their energy use and create thousands of much-needed jobs," ComEd spokeswoman Judith Rader said.

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