Customers raise concerns with ComEd

August 16, 2011 9:27:15 PM PDT
ComEd heard an earful Tuesday from outraged residents who lost power for several days during severe storms earlier this summer.

Hundreds of thousands of customers found themselves in the dark for days back in June and July. It took nearly six days for all of the nearly 900,000 customers that lost power in a July 11th storm to get back online.

Customers expressed their frustrations at a hearing Tuesday in Highland Park.

The hearing was held by the Illinois House Public Utilities Committee and comes as ComEd tries to win approval for rate hikes. ComEd said the recent storms stretched its resources thin, but many customers at the hearing seemed less than sympathetic.

"I have had power companies from all over the Midwest tell me that ComEd is a joke and that we are a third world country up here," said Jane Mordini.

A Highland Park resident, Mordini says she has had 20 power outages this year, and she showed ABC7 dozens of ComEd text messages to prove it.

"You get several explanations," Mordini said. "One is, it's a squirrel or a tree, and my response is 'Yeah, but you built your system on a planet that has squirrels and trees.' "

ComEd says historic storms were largely to blame for record outages this summer but acknowledged it could have done a better job communicating with customers.

Tuesday, ComEd said it has added 1,000 extra phone lines, doubling its ability to answer calls.

The company said it would change how it prioritizes its response after being criticized for focusing on large outage areas while leaving smaller pockets to languish. It said it would also look at how it communicates with its customers.

"We're going to a broader, community-based approach, weaving in there of course those life safety accounts like hospitals and that sort of thing," said ComEd Senior Vice President Fidel Marquez.

"This was a very severe storm, and the response rate I thought was exceptional," said David Owens of the Edison Electric Institute.

The hearing comes at a critical time for ComEd. On the governor's desk sits a bill that would allow ComEd to raise rates to pay for a more modern power grid.

"Had that infrastructure been in place, this would have saved about 200,000 outages out of a 900,000-outage storm," said Marquez.

But, for some customers, the "help us help you" argument rings hollow.

"We'd be in a situation where they'd make a better profit, but it would come out of my wallet," said Glenview resident Lyle Cazel.

"They have the money," said Mordini. "Cut the executives' salaries in half and put the money into maintaining the system that you built."

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has said he plans to veto the bill, calling it heavy on profit for ComEd and light on oversight. Still, ComEd said Tuesday it was hopeful common ground can be reached.


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