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Project that could raise Peoples Gas bills under investigation

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation
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There is an official order for a judge to review the Peoples Gas project that could cost at least $6.8 billion.



CHICAGO (WLS) -- There are developments into the I-Team investigation into a multi-billion dollar Peoples Gas project. Critics say it is way over-budget, potentially raising your gas bill.

There is an official order for a judge to review the Peoples Gas project that could cost at least $6.8 billion. Critics call it a bloated budget. Now, there is a new decision by the Illinois Commerce Commission to hold more hearings and investigate it further.

"Since the inception it's been plagued with cost overruns," said Abe Scarr, Illinois PIRG.

Illinois Public Interest Research Group is supporting the state's new decision to hold more hearings and testimony about the Peoples Gas Pipeline Replacement Strategy, its the project underway to modernize and replace old or leaky gas lines.

"The decision to continue the investigation is better than the alternative to rubber stamp the status quo," Scarr said.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan told the I-Team in January that Peoples Gas customers could see their bills double in the next 14 years because of the growing cost. Peoples Gas said it expects the project to raise consumer bills by 2.7 percent annually, less than Madigan's estimate.

"They are asking rate payers to pay an exorbitant amount of money," Madigan said.

An independent 2015 audit revealed the cost of the project had grown from $2.5 billion to more than $8 billion. Peoples Gas counters, estimating he cost to now be at $6.8 billion.

The Illinois Commerce Commission decision directs the administrative law judge to review the project and hold hearings to determine how to: best prioritize leaks, reevaluate the cost and budget, and to determine the impact on the average annual customer bill.

Peoples Gas said it's being responsive to the ICC. The company also says it has already made significant improvements, saying: "Our modernization program replaces an outdated natural gas delivery system, which consists of thousands of short segments of cast and ductile iron pipe, some installed more than a century ago. The benefits of the program will result in Chicagoans receiving the safe, reliable and modern natural gas distribution system they deserve."

The consumer watchdog group Citizens Utility Board said the project is on an "unsustainable path" and "will be devastating" to Chicago consumers as it is now. CUB says it will work with state regulators to hold Peoples Gas accountable and control costs.

FULL PEOPLES GAS STATEMENT:

"We have made significant improvements implementing our System Modernization Program (SMP). Our modernization program replaces an outdated natural gas delivery system, which consists of thousands of short segments of cast and ductile iron pipe, some installed more than a century ago. The benefits of the program will result in Chicagoans receiving the safe, reliable and modern natural gas distribution system they deserve. The ICC process has been very helpful to all stakeholders and we're happy to be responsive to the additional information the ICC has requested. We remain committed to working with the Illinois Commerce Commission and all parties as we continue implementing SMP. We remain committed to working with the Illinois Commerce Commission and other stakeholders throughout this process."

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billsconsumerlisa madiganI-TeamChicago
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