Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Quinn or the Illinois Legislature: Who understands our ComEd fears better?

Maybe, just maybe, Gov. Pat Quinn is not a complete nincompoop totally out of touch with what the people of this state, particularly the Chicago-area, think.
QUINN: On our side?

That clueless impression is the one that too many political people want to give these days – even some state government officials who theoretically should be the Mighty Quinn’s allies.

HE’S REALLY TAKING his hits for not giving in promptly on casino gambling expansion. And his proposed budget cuts to allow the state to have a chance to make it through the full fiscal year without running short on cash also get him his share of pot shots.

Yet Quinn on Monday made a move that will also get him some criticism in many quarters. But it has me thinking that Quinn is viewing this issue a little more like a regular person than any other state official.

I’m referring to the measure approved by the General Assembly during the spring that would allow Commonwealth Edison the ability to implement its so-called “smart grid” technology that truly would revolutionize the way the utility provides electrical power to its customers and address emergency situations (such as power outages) in a more efficient manner.

What has the consumer activists, along with a lot of other type of activists (AARP, to name a few), upset is that the bill also contains provisions by which utility rates would go up significantly in coming years to pay for the upgrade.

ACTIVISTS INSIST THIS is just a scheme by ComEd to get those rate hikes, without having to submit to the usual procedures by which the Illinois Commerce Commission reviews rate hike proposals.

These hikes potentially could come every year. And it would be put upon the activists to have to justify why ComEd should NOT get an increase. Rather than the typical process by which the utility in question has to justify why it needs more income.

Quinn, the man who likes to think he’s still that activist who helped found the Citizens Utility Board, sided with the activists. He used his “veto” power to kill the bill.

And he didn’t just slip his rejection through late on a Friday night out of hopes that no one would pay attention. He waited until a bright, sunny Monday morning at the Thompson Center, where he spoke before all the television cameras.

MAJOR PRESS COVERAGE, because there wasn’t much else happening – except for the hangover from this weekend’s “Sept. 11 memorial” frenzy.

“It’s a nightmare for Illinois consumers,” Quinn said – which will be the soundbite that gets used against him as the state Legislature already is plotting how they’re going to override the governor’s rejection.

This bill, along with the casino expansion measure that has yet to come before the governor due to legislative maneuverings, seem to be the issues that state officials are determined to shove right down Quinn’s throat – even though he is inclined to reject them both.

Yet is that really the right thing to do?

I HAVE TO confess to coming to my conclusion about ComEd and the “smart grid” back in June. In my work for one of the suburban Chicago newspapers, I covered a municipal hearing during which ComEd officials appeared to explain in detail how the technology works.

I must admit – it is impressive. It sounds like something that the utilities ought to be striving to accomplish, in large part because it would have made so many past catastrophes easier to cope with and less consuming in the amount of time they took.

This measure has the capability to point out almost immediately the exact location where a problem has developed that has caused a power outage – and can even tell them what caused the problem.

Crews rushing to the scene to make repairs can literally be aware of exactly what will confront them. Instead of the current situation where they only know a general area where a problem has arisen and then they have to scour the scene for the problem – all the while people are getting more and more frustrated without electricity.

BUT MY SENSE is that this issue ultimately comes down to the question, “Do you trust Commonwealth Edison to be capable of implementing the 'smart grid' successfully?”

Be honest.

How many of you immediately responded “Hell, No!!!!!” Then, upon further reflection, changed your answer to a more calm and sincere, “No!”

I sense that too many people fear a “smart grid” system that ultimately won’t work, but will still wind up spending all that cash from rate hikes in the near future to install. All the talk in the world about how much better things could be just isn’t going to sway people who feel they have been burned by ComEd too often in the past.

YET WE STILL have a state Legislature that is plotting the veto override, probably sensing that they need to put Quinn in his place on this issue – like they have done on so many others in recent months.

Which makes me wonder if this is going to be an issue that ultimately bolsters Quinn’s reputation. Will it turn out that he had enough sense to be skeptical of ComEd, and that perhaps the rest of us should have listened to him?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pat Quinn is the Jimmy Carter of Governors. Anybody that borrows money to pay off debt, thus incurring additional interest charges, wouldn't understand anything about the supply of power....