Last month, as the Illinois General Assembly’s spring session rushed to a close, ComEd, Ameren and their army of lobbyists were able to muscle a bill through the legislature that will mean a decade of higher prices for consumers if it becomes law. That must not happen.
The bill mandates up to $3.76 billion in spending on dubious plans to upgrade the electric grid and replace customers’ electric meters with so-called smart meters. While ComEd and Ameren will do the spending, we’ll be footing the bill thanks to large annual rate increases — about 9 percent a year. The utilities want to experiment with expensive and unproven smart grid technology, yet all the risk for this experiment will lie with consumers. The utilities cleverly crafted a law that poses no risk for them and guarantees them huge profits.
ComEd and Ameren have failed to prove there’s an urgent need for this excessive spending. In fact, even utility executives admit doubts about the benefits of these investments and question whether they are worth the cost. John Rowe, the CEO of ComEd’s parent company, Exelon, recently said of the smart grid:
“… it costs too much, and we’re not sure what good it will do. We have looked at most of the elements of smart grid for 20 years and we have never been able to come up with estimates that make it pay.”
Wow! Really? Then why are ComEd and Ameren pushing so hard to have us pay for this technology?
I believe this legislation is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt by ComEd and Ameren to protect their revenues for the next decade at great expense to consumers. It would guarantee these monopolies a yearly profit of 10 percent or more.
So far, most legislators have bought the utilities’ smart sell and slick ad campaign.
Their pitch is that smart meters will allow consumers to monitor their electricity usage, helping them to reduce consumption and save money. But the $63 million smart grid pilot program consumers are currently paying for has turned in disappointing results that reinforce what Rowe already knows. On hot summer days, people continue to run their air conditioners no matter how much information they have from their smart meter.
Consumers don’t need to be forced to pay billions for so-called smart technology to know how to reduce their utility bills. We know to turn down the heat or air conditioning and shut off the lights. The utilities have shown no evidence of billions of dollars in benefits to consumers from these new meters, but they have shown they know how to profit.
I think the only real question is: How dumb do they think we are?
Lisa Madigan is the Illinois attorney general.