SPRINGFIELD — A plan to enact a so-called smart grid program for Illinois electricity consumers passed the Illinois House 67-47 Monday morning.
But the number of yes votes may not be enough to overcome a likely gubernatorial veto. Gov. Pat Quinn, as well as Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Illinois Commerce Commission chair Doug Scott say they're opposed to the bill (SB 1652).
In a statement shortly after the vote, Quinn avoided mentioning a veto but signaled again that one was likely.
"Today the Illinois House chose to let the electric utilities lock in guaranteed, large profits at the expense of Illinois' businesses and working families," Quinn said. "We believe there are ways to encourage greater investment to upgrade the electric grid and create more jobs while protecting consumers."
The bill also must still pass the Senate.
The legislation would require Ameren electric customers to pay as much as $34 more a year over the next two years for infrastructure improvements. But House sponsor Rep. Kevin McCarthy, D-Orland Park, said that Ameren customers could save as much as $40 a year by using "smart meters" that help encourage energy use during lower-cost periods.
The bill originally allowed for automatic rate increases without the approval of the Illinois Commerce Commission. That provision has been removed, however, although a swifter ICC review is part of the legislation.
Supporters of the bill argued that Illinois had to keep pace with other states in improving their electrical distribution system.
"We are facing the competition of other states," said Rep. David Winters, R-Shirland. "Of the other 10 leading states in population and economic activity, every one of them is doing exactly what we are doing to modernize the way their utilities respond to the current economic climate and to the advances in technology that we have seen in the 21st century."
But Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, argued that the bill "was all about profits" and would lock in higher electric rates for Commonwealth Edison and Ameren customers.
"As part of the electric rewrite in 2007, a deal was cut so that Exelon locked in a contract for its electricity for five years. At that time the market price for electricity was about $58 per megawatt hour. Since that time the price of electricity has dropped precipitously. It's now about $34 per megawatt hour," Nekritz said. "So the contract that was locked in with the 2007 legislation has cost consumers about one billion dollars, one billion dollars that has gone to shareholders at the expense of ratepayers."
She asserted that ratepayers "should be getting about a 10 to 12 percent cut, not the annual 2 1/2 percent increase that is locked in to this legislation."
Nekritz also said rate increases to pay for the smart grid would hurt the state's business climate.
The legislation has a sunset provision that requires the General Assembly to renew or eliminate it in 2017.