C-U to hear testimony on IP at joint hearing

CHAMPAIGN – The cities of Champaign and Urbana will be conducting a rare joint hearing to solicit testimony from the public on Illinois Power's reliability and service to the community.

The hearing was prompted by the experience of Amdocs in Champaign, which solicited the state and city help to pay for a second power feed to the facility or risk losing the company.

"The Amdocs case illustrated the difficulties people were having. It triggered other complaints and just how widespread the problems are," said Trisha Crowley, the deputy city attorney in Champaign who is helping organize the hearing.

Bill Gray, public works director for the city of Urbana, said it is a shared problem.

"Champaign's concerns are identical to ours," Gray said. "We've heard concerns from businesses that electrical service is a factor on whether they can stay. It's not only reliability, but service, too, and the problems businesses and contractors have working with the utility, especially since deregulation."

The hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 25, in the council chambers of the Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St.

Amdocs, an electronic billing and service center located on Fox Drive in south Champaign, has had reliability problems for about two years, prompting its primary customer, Nextel, to demand assurances that reliable power be delivered or it would look elsewhere for another provider.

Amdocs recruited legislators and city officials for help. The city in March contributed $50,000 to help Amdocs Inc. get a $75,000 state grant to help pay for a $180,000 upgrade to the company's electrical service. But not without reservations.

"It's really tragic our community can't provide an employer of 500 people with a simple commodity like electrical power," said council member Tom Bruno. "The blame for that falls squarely on the utility. I wish we didn't have to spend this money. I wish we had reliable electrical power. But we don't."

The hearing will also feature an expert to talk about the current regulatory environment. Bob Stephens is a former Illinois Commerce Commission staffer now with the utility consulting company Brubaker and Associates of St. Louis. University of Illinois officials, Chamber of Commerce, possibly Danville officials, as well as IP officials are expected to be on hand too, Crowley said.

Shirley Swarthout, a Decatur-based spokesman for the utility, confirmed that someone from IP will be there.

"Illinois Power will definitely be at the meeting. We appreciate hearing from our customers, and if there are concerns we want to hear about them," Swarthout said.

The hearing will be broadcast on the city's public access channel 5.

Crowley said one result of the hearing may be a complaint filed with the ICC, but the hearing itself is intended to gather information.

"We're going into it in an exploratory manner to see what the anecdotal local experience has been," Crowley said.

You can reach Phil Bloomer at 351-5371 or via e-mail at bloomer@news-gazette.com.

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