PRITZKER AD­MIN­IS­TRA­TION PUSHES TO TIGHTEN STATE UTIL­ITY REG­U­LA­TIONS

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY MITCHELL ARMENTROUT, STAFF RE­PORTER mar­men­trout@sun­times.com | @mitchtrout

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is push­ing state law­mak­ers to clamp down on reg­u­la­tions for util­ity com­pa­nies in the wake of the bombshell fed­eral bribery case lev­eled against ComEd that im­pli­cated pow­er­ful Illi­nois House Speaker Michael Madi­gan.

Declar­ing that util­i­ties “can no longer write the state’s en­ergy poli­cies be­hind closed doors,” Pritzker’s of­fice is­sued a set of pro­pos­als Fri­day that in­clude get­ting rid of the state’s for­mula rate sys­tem, ban­ning util­i­ties from mak­ing char­i­ta­ble con­tri­bu­tions and re­quir­ing elected of­fi­cials to re­port any rel­a­tives who work for a reg­u­lated util­ity com­pany in their ethics fil­ings.

“The pub­lic right­fully ques­tions whether any new en­ergy laws might be in­evitably tainted by the po­lit­i­cal power of util­ity com­pa­nies that have used their ex­ces­sive clout and po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions to cor­rupt the po­lit­i­cal process for their own profits, and whose prac­tices have led to crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions and charges,” Pritzker’s of­fice said. “Their days of out­sized in­flu­ence on the process are end­ing.”

For­mula rates went into ef­fect in Illi­nois in 2012 to help fund a now com­pleted grid mod­ern­iza­tion plan, and now only help util­i­ties “in­crease their profits by load­ing up the rate base with lit­tle cost con­trol,” ac­cord­ing to Pritzker’s of­fice, re­sult­ing in a 29% in­crease in de­liv­ery costs for ComEd cus­tomers.

“We’re go­ing to make the util­i­ties come back be­fore the Illi­nois Com­merce Com­mis­sion like they used to, to make their case to those com­mis­sion­ers why their rates change year over year,” Deputy Gov. Chris­tian Mitchell said.

Pritzker’s team also wants to block util­i­ties from re­cov­er­ing char­i­ta­ble con­tri­bu­tions to foundation­s, golf out­ings, and other events, “of­ten to curry fa­vor with elected of­fi­cials” with ratepayer money.

And among 10 other “trans­parency and ethics” re­quire­ments, the Demo­cratic gov­er­nor wants util­i­ties to sub­mit to yearly in­de­pen­dent au­dits of in­fra­struc­ture ex­pen­di­tures.

Mitchell said they’re putting the pro­pos­als to a work­ing group next week in hopes of craft­ing a bill for the veto ses­sion in Spring­field this fall, but ac­knowl­edged it would be dif­fi­cult for leg­is­la­tion to come to fruition this year.

And the deputy gov­er­nor stopped short of say­ing the pro­posed util­ity crack­down would pre­vent schemes like the one fed­eral prose­cu­tors al­leged last month against ComEd.

“When peo­ple want to mis­be­have, they tend to find a way, but this makes it sig­nif­i­cantly harder to do so,” Mitchell said. “And it lets peo­ple know that we’re go­ing to be fo­cused on this in a real way go­ing for­ward.”

ComEd has been charged with bribery, ac­cused of send­ing $1.3 mil­lion to Madi­gan’s as­so­ciates for do­ing lit­tle or no work for the util­ity while ComEd hoped to land Madi­gan’s sup­port for fa­vor­able leg­is­la­tion in Spring­field worth more than $150 mil­lion to the util­ity.

The com­pany is ex­pected to pay a $200 mil­lion fine as part of a de­ferred-pros­e­cu­tion agree­ment with the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice.

A ComEd spokes­woman said the util­ity is re­view­ing Pritzker’s pro­pos­als but “whole­heart­edly agrees with the gov­er­nor that the need for com­pre­hen­sive en­ergy re­form has never been greater; we share the state’s com­mit­ment to clean en­ergy, sus­tain­abil­ity, util­ity af­ford­abil­ity and trans­parency.”

“ComEd has al­ready moved ag­gres­sively to im­ple­ment com­pre­hen­sive ethics re­forms to en­sure that the un­ac­cept­able con­duct out­lined in the agree­ment with the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice never hap­pens again. How­ever, we rec­og­nize the im­por­tance and chal­lenge of re­build­ing the trust of the pub­lic, reg­u­la­tors and elected of­fi­cials, and look for­ward to work­ing with these stake­hold­ers to achieve the state’s am­bi­tious clean-en­ergy goals,” ComEd said.

Madi­gan has not been charged with a crime and has de­nied any wrong­do­ing.

A spokesman for the long­time speaker de­clined to com­ment on the pro­pos­als but noted Madi­gan has said he’ll sup­port the rec­om­men­da­tions of the Gen­eral Assem­bly’s Joint Com­mis­sion on Ethics and Lob­by­ing Re­form. That group had been set to re­lease a re­port in March be­fore the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

Pritzker’s util­ity ethics pro­pos­als are among a broader set of en­ergy pri­or­i­ties an­nounced by his of­fice, aim­ing to bol­ster a “clean and re­new­able Illi­nois econ­omy.”

Those in­clude putting the state on a path to 100% clean en­ergy by 2050, and putting 750,000 elec­tric cars on Illi­nois roads over the next 10 years.

Deputy Gov. Chris­tian Mitchell

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