ComEd pulls unusual offer off table

The energy company's trucks are shown in this file image.

May 6, 2010 4:49:59 AM PDT
With the clock ticking on a $13 billion budget deficit and state programs in jeopardy, an unusual offer from ComEd failed to gain support in Springfield.

The power company offered to give Illinois $500 million. In exchange, it wanted to guarantee profits. The Citizens Utility Board and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan strongly opposed the plan.

In a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon, Commonwealth Edison pulled its offer off the table. They said they tried their best to help a state in turmoil, and officials denied they were scheming to charge their customers in Illinois more than market rates for electricity. Nonetheless, the offer of $500 million to a broke state had Springfield buzzing Tuesday morning.

Springfield lawmakers said they were kept in the dark about the ComEd offer that at one point was given serious consideration by Democratic leaders.

"The government has to operate, and we have to do whatever is necessary to make certain that we have the funds to do that," said Rep. Constance Howard, (D) Chicago.

Commonwealth Edison, which sells electricity mostly in the Chicago area, offered $500 million if the cash-strapped state agreed to allow the utility to charge consumers at the current rate for another five years. A deal would have ended any chance for a rate reduction during that period.

"The state is economically vulnerable right now, but for a private gentility to come in and try to take advantage of the vulnerability, and trying to have the consumers at the end of the day bear the price for that is not good policy," said Rep. John Fritchie, (D) Chicago.

ComEd executives abruptly cancelled a capitol news conference Wednesday morning as more lawmakers turned against their idea. Then the governor, who crossed paths with his Republican election opponent at a Springfield luncheon, announced he was having second thoughts.

"It has to really be looked at extremely carefully. I don't know if that can be done in a couple of days," said Gov. Pat Quinn, (D) Chicago.

"I appreciate any corporate partner in Illinois who is willing to help us, but it seems to me that this would be kicking the can down the road again," said Sen Bill Brady, (R) candidate for governor.

Without explaining how, Attorney General Lisa Madigan said she would fight any such ComEd deal, adding, "This is just another effort to lock in unjustified profits."

Representative Art Turner told ABC7, while the entire state would benefit, only ComEd's customers would pay the higher rates.

"The long and short is, it would be the Chicago base or the ComEd ratepayers that would help pay back this loan. And they would become concerned about the inequity there," said Rep. Art Turner, (D) Chicago.

In the latest revenue-generating efforts, lawmakers are gathering support for a cigarette tax increase that they hope will generate hundreds of millions of dollars.


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