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General Assembly outmuscles Quinn on ComEd rate-hike veto

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SPRINGFIELD-Commonwealth Edison Wednesday became free to follow through with $70 million in new annual rate hikes for the modernization of its electricity grid when the General Assembly voted to reject Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of the effort.

By a 71-51 vote, with five voting present, the House followed the lead of the Senate, which on Tuesday also overrode Quinn's veto from earlier this month. With just enough votes to override a veto, the House's action made the bill law.

"Today's unfortunate vote forces electric utility rate-hikes on families and businesses all across Illinois," Quinn said in a prepared statement. "I am disappointed that the General Assembly did not protect consumers from overreaching by utility monopolies like ComEd and Ameren. This is bad for families, businesses and our economy."

Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), the bill's chief House sponsor, said the measure clears up language in the bill passed last year designed to allow the utility to update its system to help prevent and fix power outages.

"Instead of it taking 10 hours to find the location to fix, it could take an hour," Lang said. "It could take an hour and a half. It could take 20 minutes because the new technology would allow them to pinpoint [the problem] very quickly."

The utility's 'smart-grid' program became law in 2011 and included a $2.6 billion upgrade funded in part by a decade of annual rate hikes. The law passed by the General Assembly Wednesday was a utility-driven response to a series of Illinois Commerce Commission rulings against the utility's hikes.

The unfavorable ICC rulings forced ComEd to postpone installation of its new smart meters in Chicago and its suburbs until 2015, but the utility has said the new law will allow for installation later this year.

"All this bill does is reinvigorate our interest in having the Commerce Commission follow our law as we wrote it last year," Lang said.

It became clear in the debate that the House's action was also partly an assertion of its power in the wake of Quinn's veto, which Lang noted was executed "very emphatically."

"I have a different story to tell," Lang said. "The story is that the Commerce Commission does not make public policy in this state. The Illinois General Assembly makes policy in this state, and they ought to follow the policy that we set."

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