Power hour: Rich Gordus Jr., manager of the smart grid, gives a tour of ComEd's "smart" power station in central Oak Park last week.Village of Oak Park

Power supplier ComEd made its pitch to local officials last week, trying to gather support for a rate increase that it says would lead to innovation in the state of Illinois.

The company hosted a tour of its advanced power station in central Oak Park, showing the benefits of the station, with the possibility of building similar ones across the state. Afterward, ComEd hosted a reception at the Nineteenth Century Charitable Association, as company officials touted the benefits of the hike.

“We have a very poisonous regulatory atmosphere in Illinois,” Tom O’Neill, senior vice president of regulatory and energy policy for ComEd said at the reception, later adding, “We’re not advancing solutions, and that unpredictability and poisonous climate scares investors away.”

Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the rate increase on Sept. 12, saying that it would give ComEd “billions” in automatic price hikes each year for the next decade, while cutting back on consumer protections.

“More than 1.5 million people and businesses have had to deal with power outages and service disruptions this summer,” Quinn said in a statement last week. “Now these same utilities are trying to change the rules to guarantee themselves annual rate increases and eliminate accountability. I will not support a bill that contains sweetheart deals for big utilities, which could leave struggling consumers to pick up the tab for costs such as lobbying fees and executive bonuses. We can ensure innovation and investment in our electric grid, and create new jobs, without compromising core safeguards for Illinois consumers.”

ComEd tried to show off some of that innovation during a tour of its only “intelligent” substation in the state, located in central Oak Park. The station — which serves 21,000 customers in Broadview, Oak Park, Evergreen Park, River Forest and parts of Maywood — detects when there are problems at specific transformers. Then it feeds that information to a flat-screen TV and, through email, quickly gives ComEd info on problems. In the past, ComEd had to go to each station individually and check gauges to figure out a problem, said Rich Gordus Jr., manager of the smart grid.

Gordus said it cost about $5 million to upgrade the power station, which was finished in March.

During the reception, attended by several state reps, along with Village Manager Tom Barwin and President David Pope, ComEd officials pushed hard for support of Senate Bill 1652. Among benefits touted, they said “thousands” of jobs would be created to modernize the grid, $110 million each year in economic benefits would be seen from 700,000 fewer power outages, and the state would be made more competitive with the 44 others that already have smart grid programs.

“The practical reality is that we’ve got to get this done, and if we don’t get it done now, we may have lost our window,” Pope told the crowd. “And if we lose our window, that’s fundamentally problematic and not good for any of us.”

They also defended the rate increase, saying that utility costs would be reviewed annually, and that the program would be terminated if the average annual rate increase for each resident is more than 2.5 percent by 2014.

Still, that didn’t stop state officials from bashing the bill last week.

“This bill would have been devastating for Illinois consumers,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a statement. “At a time when people are already struggling to pay their bills, the utilities want to make an end run around the regulatory process and stick consumers with huge annual rate increases for unproven technology — all so they can guarantee their profits for the next decade. That’s not a proposal I can support.”

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